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Urban Science Adventure: Summer Fun and Summer Science

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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The warmer weather calls us outside to run, jump and play. That goes for the kids and adults, too.  And while you’re out having fun with friends and family, be sure to keep your eyes and ears open. For what, you may ask.  For all of the nature that is beginning to emerge, sprout and bloom because spring is near. Be still for a moment. Take a close look at the tree or patch of grass in front of you.  Or sit down on the grass or sandy beach and close your eyes and listen.  You’ll soon notice that all around you there’s a whole other dimension of nature all-abuzz, hiding in plain site.

It’s a great way to unwind, relax, maybe even get some fresh air and exercise, but it’s also a great opportunity to learn and share. All of that new life sprouting and peeping around is waiting on someone just like you make very important scientific observations and report them.  There are a lot of projects out there and scientists like myself who could use a hand and your eyes! And I really want to encourage young people to get started on science projects over the summer.  There are SO many science fair competitions now (e.g. Google Science Fair, Intel Science & Engineering Fair). The students who win these prestigious awards (and thousands in college scholarships) often start on their projects in the summer time.  So, the time is now and I would really love to see an ecology project win the big prizes for once.

There’s so much cool stuff happening in nature, and you can be a part of it all.  Phenology is the study of timing of natural events. I’m always encouraging you to go outside and observe nature, now I’m also asking you to jot down notes of your observations (if you don’t already).  Science and nature watching organizations depend on great nature-loving watchers like you to keep their data bases up-to-date. Plus, your observations help scientists determine if there may be some changes in plant and animal winter and spring transitions changes due to climate change. Remember, nothing we know about the natural world in science comes to our knowledge without lots of information to support the idea (hypothesis). So open your eyes and report your results.

Why get involved in a citizen science project?
It’s a perfect way to spend time with your family. You’re always wondering what you can do that’s different, will make for a great adventure and doesn’t cost alot of money.
Start a fun learning project. If you’re a home schooling parent, after-school teacher or camp counselor and you want the kids to have a meaning experience that will go with them forever. This is it. Just a little time once a week or once a day yields the perfect opportunity to do a big end-of-camp presentation and capstone experience.

It is so easy! Seriously, simply visit a website, sign-up for a project (and sometimes you don’t have to do that), and email the results back (or fill out an online form).  If you find a local project, then you show up and lend a scientist a hand and get a chance to get up close and personal with some exciting plants and animals.

Here are some Citizen Science projects you can do right now!

1. Nature Notebook with The USA National Phenology Network.

Basically, you adopt a special place, like your backyard, special area of your neighborhood park, your school yard, or even the empty lot along your street.  You visit your special place at least once a week. Make notes in your nature journal (are you journaling? if, not it is so much fun and you should do so right now) and share your results with the online data base. The data from you and others all over the nation will be used to track any changes our natural world is making to climate changes and human influences. Go to their website to learn more and  sign up. Also follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

2. Firefly Watch.  As a child I loved catching lightning bugs and putting them in a jar.  I didn’t know it then, but the little fluorescent bug was a scientific wonder – producing this yellow-green glow to communicate with other fireflies to mate or catch prey.  How neat! Now, you can take that simple pastime and make a difference.  Scientists using that information to track any changes in firefly distribution, habits, and population growth. You can sign up to be an observer and submit your weekly observations at the website sponsored by the Museum of Science.

3. Interested in more citizen science ideas? Then check out Scientific American Citizen Science or SciStarter. You can look up upcoming projects or submit your own ideas.  I bet you find something perfect.

4. Want more science education ideas? Then check out the list and links to STEM Resources by the National Summer Learning Association. There’s no reason why the summer can’t be fun and educational.

Be sure to come back and let me know what you’ve been up to.

DNLee About the Author: DNLee is a biologist and she studies animal behavior, mammalogy, and ecology . She uses social media, informal experiential science experiences, and draws from hip hop culture to share science with general audiences, particularly under-served groups. Follow on Twitter @DNLee5.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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