This yearlong bird monitoring project engages a class of fourth
graders in the collection, analysis and submission of local bird
species data. In so doing, the project connects them to their
local government and to a global dataset and community of
contributors. Working at two sites – one on the school campus and
another in the surrounding neighborhood - students learn
about the abundance and distribution of birds in relation to
features of their habitat, such as shelter and food
available Students report data
to eBird, an online
bird monitoring program, and use findings to (1) propose habitat
improvements for a public pond and (2) implement bird-habitat
improvements on their school campus. Students also investigate
bird species patterns across seasons and make comparisons between
the two research sites to learn about different habitats and the
species they attract.
Institution: Elementary School Classroom
This case uses eBird as part of a larger science project, which
was developed by a teacher to use in her fourth grade class. She
uses citizen science to teach both the Next Generation Science
Standards and the Common Core. She solicits the support of the
school, families, and the greater community by encouraging them
to participate in the data collection process.
Participants: Fourth grade class
25 students are in the participating classroom. The public
elementary school is located in an agricultural town and
students’ backgrounds vary, with a significant proportion coming
from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in science.
Species or system studied: Birds
The students assess the abundance and distribution of birds –
both local and migratory – at two local, man-made sites.
Research site: Wetlands & School Arboretum
Situated in the Sacramento Valley, students collect, submit, and
analyze data at two sites – their school arboretum and at a
local, man-made pond. The arboretum provides students with
opportunities to master observation and data collection
techniques. The pond, located about 3 miles from the school,
allows students to work with, and within, the broader community.
Participation Structure: Classroom-based
Students conduct weekly observations at the arboretum as a part
of school day activities. Once a month they compile their data
for submission to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird. In the Fall
and Spring, students take a field trip to the public pond and
submit data for this second site. Discussion and related
activities happen across the year and are integrated across the
Duration: School year
Students participate throughout the 9-month academic year. The
project continues year-on-year, but students graduate out. This
is the second year of the project at this site. The specific
eBird citizen science project is ongoing and was launched in
Curricula and Supporting Materials
The bird monitoring citizen science project is integrated into
the NGGS fourth grade science curricula and Common Core State
Standards. For example, when learning how to identify birds by
sound, students learn about waves and how to read bird song
spectrographs. Students also learn how to conduct research and
synthesize data from multiple sources. Visit the YCCS to learn
more about this project’s activities and how to implement them at
your site. Links the resources below coming soon:
Through in-depth case studies of diverse YCCS projects,
we have documented youth-centered key practices that
are effective in promoting learning and environmental
science agency. Click the headers below to learn more about what
those key practices look like in this particular case.
Sharing Findings with Outside Audiences
At the end of the school year, students summarize their project
and present findings to the town’s Parks and Recreation City
Council. Additionally, students share what improvements they
think are needed at the pond, such as to increase bird habitat or
make the pond a more inviting space for the public.
Speaking to the city council is a responsibility that the
teacher lets students carry. With support, the teacher gives the
students full responsibility for deciding what to include in
their presentation, how to explain their scientific findings, and
who will talk during the presentation. In small groups and pairs,
students choose sections of the presentation and flesh out
exactly what they want to say. The whole class then practices the
presentation as a team and develops a Powerpoint presentation
using photos they took in the field.
At the end of the presentation, city council members ask the
students questions about their scientific findings and
suggestions. Last year, the first year of the project, the city
council thanked the students for their work. The teacher hopes in
subsequent years there will be more follow up regarding the
improvements students suggest.
Ensuring High Data Quality
When teachers ask students to use evidence to support their
findings, and to sort their data into “ready to submit” versus
“needs more research/evidence,” they learn that not all data are
In this project, it is common to hear students asking, “what is
your evidence?” after someone shares their findings. For
instance, Carlos explained that although they found evidence of
an owl from pellets beneath an owl box, this was not data they
could submit, since the evidence doesn’t help identify which kind
of owl was present. Students become bird experts through feather
and bird call identification as well as studying bird physiology
and habitat. They practice making weekly observations for about
three months before submitting any data.
As students compile data as a class, the teacher asks students to
sort their findings and determine if more evidence or research is
needed. Only the data that is backed with evidence is submitted
to eBird. Afterwards, they wait to get confirmation from the
Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which organizes the eBird project.
For example, last year one of their data entries was rejected as
the class estimated the size of a flock of the Brewer’s
Blackbird, which for scientists at the Lab of Ornithology, was
not accurate enough.
Interacting with Complex Social Ecological Systems
While learning about bird identification, students become
immersed in learning about birds, their habits, physiology,
habitat, and diversity. They are able to connect bird adaptations
to habitat and habitat diversity to bird species diversity. They
also notice how human activity influences birds. For example,
each summer when the surrounding tomato fields are harvested,
students notice an increase in raptors. Students understand that
the harvesting of tomatoes displaces rodents, which attracts
birds of prey.
By prompting the students to recollect and reflect on what they
see happening around the school and pond, the teacher situates
the students’ research within the larger ecological content. She
has seen that this adds breadth and depth to understanding of
Data: Submission of monthly data from the
arboretum, plus Fall and Spring data from the pond to Cornell Lab
of Ornithology’s eBird.
Why: According to their website each month
1,000,000 bird observations are reported to
eBird (“Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Mission: Citizen
Science”, October 2016).
Audience: Ornithologists at Cornell lab of
Impact: Contributes to a large body of data
that allow scientists to understand how habitat destruction,
climate change, pollution, and disease influence bird
Audience: Parks and Recreation City Council.
In end of year presentations, students present their project,
findings and proposed pond improvements to the town’s Parks and
Recreation City Council
Impact: The presentation gives students
ownership of their data and broader findings. The presentation
also informs the Parks and Recreation City Council of
their work and how the neighborhood pond could be improved.
Impact on Council policy is to be determined. Actions
taken to improve the pond habitat as a result of student
research and recommendations may take years.
Habitat creation: Plantings and signage in
the school arboretum.
Why: rehabilitate bird habitat and develop the
arboretum as an educational space for the school.
Audience: Students and staff at elementary
Impact: Students make the arboretum a more
inviting place for birds and humans alike.
Impact: demonstrate to students how scientific
findings inform engineering/design endeavors
Community outreach and
education: Development of signage at public pond
for pond visitors to learn about the class’ citizen science
project and instructions for contributing their own observations.
Why: Signage at the pond can increase the
public’s awareness and stewardship of the community’s natural
Why: Students learn how to communicate their
project to the public and grow the project by soliciting the
help of others.
Audience: Visitors to the pond.
Impact: Citizen science projects work best
when many people participate. Drawing the community into the
project validates the student’s work.
Impact: Input of public data creates a
learning opportunity, as students have the chance to decipher
the quality of the public’s data in comparison to their own.
Field journals: Student journals with
individual observations and reflections.
Why: Students use their field guides to
develop their presentation to the city council and to compile
data for submission to eBird.. Keeping a field journal also
lets students see the quantity and quality of their work over
Audience: visiting educators and researchers
Audience: students – themselves and their
Impact: Field journals allows students to
organize their work, and gauge progress over
the yearlong project. It also helps students share the project
with others, as demonstrated by students referring to their
field notebooks while talking with visiting educators and
researchers. For example, many students noticed that
their observations became more detailed 5 weeks into the
project because they now know more about birds and what to look
Outcomes & Evaluations
The students get graded on their participation in the project, as
part of overall classroom activity. Additionally, the teacher
uses quizzes, formative assessments, and classroom observation to
assess students’ science learning.