There's a great new Nature Program coming on tonight. There will be scenes of daring escapes and chases, close calls, predator-prey interactions, mating and parenting behavior. Oh, it will be AWESOME!
What channel? Look right outside your door and there it is - a whole wide wild world! Wild Kingdom from your Window: Local edition. Your backyard, alley way..these places are teeming with life. The way I see it, city parks are like a mini wildlife reserves. That's why I say Animal Behavior is a gateway science. Students (of any age and academic level) are usually apt to be excited about the chance to study their pets, stray dogs/cats, little siblings or pigeons at the park. But it isn't as easy as watching cutesy animals for a few Saturday afternoons. Like any other scientific discipline, animal behavior research involves the application of the scientific method to glean new knowledge about the natural world. It involves careful observation, testing hypotheses, and manipulating variables.
My students in my Animal Behavior course have to complete an independent research project for a hefty proportion of their laboratory class. Independent projects and research papers are not at all uncommon in science courses. In fact, for both freshman level and upper-level biology classes, animal behavior projects seem to be the most popular. (But interestingly, you almost never hear of a student doing animal behavior for school science fairs...hmmm...I digress.) I bet they've been observing animals already, but until this class never thought about observing scientifically - applying the scientific method to test a hypothesis about animal behavior that's been burning inside for a long time. Although they have no excuses because there are plenty of animals to watch, it is not as easy as it sounds: coming up a project to study for 4-6 weeks. So, I decided to point my students to some resources that might helpful and interesting. I've suggested that they consider adopting/adapting a Citizen Science project to fulfill their requirement.
Now, they really have no excuses for partaking an exciting authentic animal behavior research project, and neither do you. Here is a non-exhaustive list of Citizen Science projects in Animal Behavior - a spring board authentic research experiences for all.
Citizen Science is a collaborative effort between teams of scientists from research institutions and non-scientist enthusiaists who work together to contribute to ongoing research projects. Most projects are very large (geographic) and long-term (multi-years) in scope. Everyday citizens such as K-12 students, Scout groups, college students, family and community groups of all ages and demographics make simple observations, collect data and share with science databases. Annual bird counts, butterfly counts, and flower bloom recordings are examples of exciting Citizen Science research projects.
Citizen Science Projects might be ideal for short-term research projects because they offer students:
- A myriad of ideas for research projects,
- An opportunity to access databases to download data to test hypotheses (for those that have open source data), and
- A chance to find/identify researchers and experts so that they can complete their background research.
So here are my list of links to Citizen Science Resources that I think would be perfect for my Animal Behavior students to use.
Citizen Science at Scientific American, some initially good-sounding projects to explore
- Project Noah - mobile app for wildlife watching
- School of Ants - an urban ant research project, offers collection kits
Science for Citizens, an online project finder
- Roadkill spotting - just like it sound-
- eBird - electronic bird watching tracker
- WildObs - an observation app for mobile phones, could be used for recording your observations, data
- Nature's Notebook - a very large notebook of plant and animal observation findings by citizen scientist, based on the USA Phenology Program (which deals with natural seasonal cycles of plants and animals). Great resource for recording data, also.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology, all birds - bird watching, bird song, bird behavior. Great searchable archives and other useful tools.
- Celebrate Urban Birds - complete website of resources for observing common urban bird species. Offers materials, too - some are free or a nominal charge. Perfect for organizing your observations, data collection, etc.
Do you have any that you would recommend?