Citizen Science Through the STEM Center at SIUE: Connecting While Social Distancing

Citizen Science Through the STEM Center at SIUE: Connecting While Social Distancing

Today’s post is brought to you by Christine Favilla!

The Y-CITYSCI program through SIUE’s STEM Center has two main goals: 1) provide youth with authentic science engagement and 2) investigate how particular aspects of these experiences impact their science identity development. At first glance, “science identity development” seems like a rather strange concept. I thought it would be helpful to break it down a bit. It seems like everyone should have some form of science identity because so much of our life is guided by science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The clean water we get from the faucet, the cell phone that tells us step by step how to get somewhere, masks that protect our respiratory health, and rubber gloves to keep germs at bay are all the result of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Monitoring the air quality near factories, as well as knowing when the air quality is safe enough to go outside and play, are also informed by the principles of STEM. All these tasks are carried out by a person—a person these kids can work towards becoming.

Science identity is when a person sees themselves as one who looks at the world with a scientific lens and then learns about making personal and work decisions based on sound science. It also means that they learn how to come up with scientific questions and come up with ways to answer that question. To really become a science person, people need to know how to do a scientific task, feel good about their ability to complete that task, and then be recognized as a science person. For instance, if someone wanted to know if their neighborhood’s level of air pollution varies during the week, they need to track the amount of pollution in their community while also recording the date and time. They may need to learn how to use an air monitor to collect the data (information), look at those data, and make a chart or write a paper about their findings to present to others. Once the student sees that they can do all these tasks, they may start to see themselves as a science person.

The Y-CITYSCI program was taking place in southwest Illinois. We were meeting the 8th and 9th grade students in the setting of an after-school program. The students had already learned about citizen science apps, as well as air, water, and soil pollution. Then the “stay at home” order was issued by the governor and all schools, PreK-12 and universities, closed. As SIUE transitioned to an online delivery model, the organization we were working with to deliver content to students also closed. While all of us are social distancing, we are determining ways to continue our work with the Y-CITYSCI students. It is important to keep science in the forefront so these students can participate in authentic science research and begin seeing themselves as scientists.  

On-line apps can be an easy, free, and engaging way to keep the Y-CITYSCI students connected to science while allowing them to gather, analyze, and share data in their community and the larger science community. There are many groups and organizations that help everyday people collect information about particular aspects of their environment that is then shared with others, as well as the scientific community.  You may have heard of several of these apps and may want to check them out: iNaturalist, eBird, Bumble Bee Watch, and Leafsnap are some very user friendly citizen science apps.

When people engage in this information gathering and sharing, they actively participate in science. National Geographic explains it this way, “Citizen science is the practice of public participation and collaboration in scientific research to increase scientific knowledge. Through citizen science, people share and contribute to data monitoring and collection programs.” We hope that by engaging students in citizen science, they can start to see themselves as the scientists!