It may seem like only yesterday that school let out for the summer, but binders and note cards are already starting to fill the back-to-school shelves at the store. What are you hoping to squeeze in before the school year starts up again? More swimming? Day camp? Hiking? Reading? Long afternoons of video games?

How about tracking local frog populations for science? Photographing clouds or measuring the brightness of the night sky? The young and curious kids you know can finish out the summer as citizen scientists.

What is citizen science?

Citizen science projects make it possible for you – and the young people in your life – to collect real data that scientists can use in their research. Depending on whether you like animals, stars, or even taking pictures on your smart phone, there are citizen science projects looking for the participation of someone just like you. Here are five examples of projects that you and your friends can take part in before the summer ends.

FrogWatch USA

If you like being outside and listening to the sounds of summer, this may be the project for you. FrogWatch has been training volunteers to listen for frogs and toads for almost 20 years. Frogs play an important role in their ecosystems, being both predator and prey. So, understanding their populations is one way scientists track wetland health. From February to August, citizens like you listen for the calls of specific species and record them in an online database. To make sure volunteers know what they are listening for, FrogWatch has a network of local chapter coordinators who lead the training. FrogWatch also sends out seasonal newsletters, so that its volunteers know where their observations are fitting in the bigger picture.

To find out more, check out their website.

Globe at Night

Once you are done listening to frogs and watching the sun set, you might be tempted to look up the night sky. But depending on where you live, you might see only a few stars or have a clear view of the Milky Way. You wouldn’t be the only one wondering about the light seeping into your sky from nearby lamps and cities – scientists have big questions about this too. Globe at Night is an international project that has had volunteers take more than 100,000 measurements in 115 countries. In the past they only enlisted citizen scientists in the winter and spring, but for 2017 they have set observation dates for the whole year. So, if your group wants to help monitor light pollution that could affect wildlife, health, and energy consumption, mark the calendar for August 14-23, September 12-21, and October 11-20.

Go to their website to find out more.

Galaxy Zoo

If you want to look a little deeper into space than with just your eyes, the images in Galaxy Zoo will let you observe the universe with some of the most powerful telescopes in the world. The project started in 2007, when the team of researchers thought of enlisting online volunteers to comb through and catalog images of more than 1 million galaxies. Rather than taking the expected years to complete, citizen scientists had made more than 50 million classifications in the first year. Not only were they prolific, those trained on the program were also reliable at picking galaxies out of the blurry images. The project has now evolved to focus on more detailed tasks for some of the brightest galaxies, and even has added Hubble images to allow citizen scientists to help compare the look of images taken many years apart. You can check out the Dark Energy Camera Legacy Survey or other citizen science options in the expanded Zooniverse here.

GLOBE Observer

If you would rather take your own photos than look through images from a telescope, consider downloading the GLOBE Observer app. This app allows citizen scientists to take photos of clouds for comparison with satellite images. Become an Observer and become part of a major source of global human observation of clouds. Once you are an Observer, you can take a minute to check out their new mosquito monitoring project too. 

To find out more, click here.

Did You Feel It?

Credit: USGS

Taking pictures isn’t the only thing you can do with a smart phone. If you live in an area with earthquakes, you and your young citizen-scientist friends can help report earthquake shaking in real time. The Did You Feel It program depends on feedback from anyone who feels the shaking or sees any damage as the result of an earthquake. This data helps to generate a map that is available within minutes – and updated rapidly – documenting where shaking and damage are the most intense. You can even look at these maps online and see whether your family, friends, or favorite landmark were shaking. If you would like to let people know that you felt it, learn more here.

These are just a few of the options for letting citizen science help you finish out your summer. When your teacher asks what you did with your summer vacation, maybe this time you can say that you were categorizing galaxies or helping track the local frog population for science.