Calling All Citizen Scientists!

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Make science your next family service project!

Here at Doing Good Together, we talk often about curiosity.

Being curious about the lives and feelings of others is fundamental to living a life of compassion. We have found that nurturing curiosity about the natural world is the best way to inspire others to protect it.

In the spirit of Earth Day, we're debuting a new project in the Big-Hearted Families™ collection featuring a unique organization. SciStarter has created an incredible online community to connect citizen scientists with researchers looking for help gathering and analyzing data.

This spring, with the help of SciStarter, turn your curiosity into a force for good and inspire your child to be a citizen scientist.

A citizen scientist is a curious person wiling to volunteer time, effort, and resources to further scientific endeavors, often - though not always - in collaboration with researchers.

I was recently fortunate enough to speak with Darlene Cavalier, founder of SciStarter, about their innovative opportunity for citizen science.

"[SciStarter is] contributing to the advancement of research by connecting people to the scientists in need of their help. At the same time, we aim to empower participants by helping them not only find the best projects, but also the instruments and and communities to support their efforts."

The truly great thing about citizen science through SciStarter is that you can choose a project based on your interests, the financial investment you're prepared to make, and your child's ability. 

Some projects require special equipment, like the NASA El Nino project, which puts citizen scientists to work monitoring water quality and NASA satellite data. According to Cavalier, one young scientist, Izy Potter from Florida, inspired her Girl Scout troop and her community to participate in this project together. This way, they spread the cost and boosted the impact of their work.

kid scientist

My own family dabbled with SciStarter last summer, and found it fascinating. My kids (ages 11, 9, and 5) have always loved their own self-styled scientific endeavors in our kitchen. SciStarter gave these science-ish inclinations a purpose with projects the kids could choose for themselves.

The idea that they could contribute to real, meaningful data collection added focus and excitement to these new adventures in science.

When school lets out this June, we plan to do more. We have found several free or low-cost projects that inspire both our curiosity and our compassion:

  • Monarch SOS, where an app turns your nature hike into a Monarch rescue expedition.

  • Pl@ntNet, where an app identifies plants you encounter and uses your data to track the migration of species (particularly invasive species).

  • Showerhead Microbiome, where you receive a kit in the mail to sample your showerhead and contribute to a study that could improve human health.

Some projects are ongoing. Others, like the ones listed above, can be done in an hour on a free afternoon.

These projects can make a real difference in the world, as the results of completed studies are transformed into new applications. For example, Cavalier took the time to tell us about about one unique project with interesting implications.

"One of our favorites is SpaceMicrobes . Thousands of people, including many kids, swabbed microbes from surfaces to help microbiologists build a map of microbes. Forty-eight of the samples were sent to the International Space Station to compare growth rates on Earth and in space. And the astronauts swabbed the inside of the Space Station following the same protocols as citizen scientists.
The results have advanced microbiome research through the discovery of a new microbe species and the surprising findings that one type of bacteria grew much faster in space than on Earth. This is important information as NASA starts to build plans to send humans (and millions and millions of microbes) to Mars."

How's that for a volunteer opportunity designed to spark a spirit of curiosity!

Now, give SciStarter a try!

All you have to do is select a project and get started!

We've created reflection questions and book lists to help you make the most of your experience as a citizen scientist!

As always, this reflection piece is crucial to learning from the project. Cavalier encourages participants to inspire other would-be scientists by sharing their reflections right on SciStarter.com. There you can rate your project and even offer feedback to the project owners. Cavalier reminds us:

"This sounds like such a simple, mundane activity but it can make a big impact."

Dive into Science Books

We've gathered our favorite fiction and nonfiction picture books for your family (chapter books are coming soon). If we've missed a book you love, let us know and we'll add it to the mix.

Still looking?

Browse our collection of projects to Heal the Earth!

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The recommendations we offer are based solely on our mission to empower parents to raise children who care and contribute.