Citizen Science Archives - Page 3 of 4 - Eva Varga

April 26, 20143

The annual National Moth Week is coming up in just a few months. Coordinators are now planning events and working together to make this year’s mothing event one to remember.

National Moth Week’s main goal is to promote moths, and more generally, biodiversity, by encouraging interested parties to organize events at their local park, environmental education center, university, or homes.  Moth Week will be held worldwide July 19-27th.

mothweekWhy Moths?

Moths are among the most diverse and successful organisms on earth.  Scientists estimate there are 150,000 to more than 500,000 moth species – with colors and patterns so dazzling or so cryptic they define camouflage.

Moths can be important bioindicators. A bioindicator is a species or taxon that tells us about the health of an ecosystem. A greater diversity of moths typically means there is a greater diversity of plant species, which leads to a greater diversity of other species as well.  They can help us monitor food plant populations and they are important food sources for many nocturnal AND diurnal organisms.

Moths typically have a reputation of being drab, dull pests. However, that is certainly not the case. An extreme minority of moth species can cause trouble to humans, but most moths either have no impact on our lives or may serve important ecosystem functions such as pollination. Many moths are actually very interestingly patterned and colored.

Moths are a world of sphinxes, hawks, owls, and tigers, all waiting for you outside your door, or perhaps in your home. Visit the National Moth Week website to learn more about this wonderful citizen science opportunity. 

March 9, 2014

Coming in March – the National Parks Service, National Geographic, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and Presidio Trust are teaming up to host a 24-hour BioBlitz species count and two-day Biodiversity Festival.  Participants will have the opportunity to learn about redwood canopy plants and animals, take a picture as a redwood tree climber, or look closely at redwood organisms.


Be a Part of an Inventory Team!

A BioBlitz is a 24-hour event in which teams of volunteer scientists, families, students, teachers and other community members work together to find and identify as many species of plants, animals, microbes, fungi and other organisms as possible. 

The three national park units that make up the Golden Gate National Parks encompass more than 80,000 acres and 91 miles of shoreline along the northern California coast. These parks are home to an amazing array of biodiversity, including over half of the bird species of North America and nearly one-third of California’s plant species!  

The joint BioBlitz and Biodiversity Festival will be held Friday-Saturday, March 28-29, 2014 to help better understand, appreciate, and protect this natural treasure.

As part of BioBlitz 2014, Save the Redwoods League and scientists from Humboldt State University will be leading the first-ever biodiversity study of the redwood canopy at Muir Woods. Never before have the trees at Muir Woods been climbed.

Register Today!

Join an expert-led species inventory team to discover, count, map, and learn about the parks’ diverse organisms, ranging from microscopic bacteria, wildflowers, and seals, to hawks and towering redwoods. Choose the park location, date and time, or subject matter that interests you most. Spots on inventory teams go quickly.

For more information and to register as a part of the inventory team, visit Golden Gate National Parks BioBlitz 2014.


January 28, 20142

What is citizen science?  I’ve never heard of it before. 

I don’t have a degree in science.  I couldn’t possibly contribute anything of worth.

It’s probably too expensive.

How do I get involved?

citizen scienceThese are just a few of the questions or comments I hear as I share with other homeschool families about our experiences with citizen science.  Citizen science is nothing new.  The National Audubon Society began annual Christmas Bird Counts in 1900 – engaging people across the country in identifying and cataloging native birds.

Now, using the power of the internet, citizen science projects and service learning opportunities are exploding. Citizen science is the collaborative effort of volunteers and professional scientists working together to collect and/or analyze data.  Citizen scientists are individuals in all walks of life – regardless of age, level of education, or socio-economic class.

Watch this informative Oregon Field Guide video segment from episode #2402.

You do not need to have an advanced degree in science to guide your children or students in productive participation in citizen science projects. Citizen science falls into many categories – astronomy, biology, ecology, entomology, environmental science, and water quality.

There are many benefits to incorporating citizen science into your curriculum.  Involvement in citizen science projects enables students to make connections with relevant, meaningful, and real experiences with science.  In turn, their experiences help facilitate their own investigations as they gain confidence.

Our Citizen Science Project Reports

We’ve had the opportunity to take part in a variety of citizen science projects over the years.  I share some of our past experiences here:

Hunting the Lost Ladybug

Malama Honokowai – Weed Warriors

Rainforest Caterpillars

School of Ants

Water Quality Monitoring

More Citizen Science Opportunities

Earthwatch Expeditions – Opportunities to volunteer all over the world

Great Backyard Bird Count

Journey North Citizen Science Projects (including Tulip Test GardensMonarch Butterflies, and Bald Eagles).

National Phenology Network

World Water Monitoring Challenge




November 14, 20137

To the delight of the kids, we’ve moved into vertebrate animals in our 10-week survey course this week. I created a chart (similar to the invertebrate chart I shared previously) with which the students could use to compare and contrast the five vertebrate animal classes as they took notes during the lecture portion of class.  However, I was surprised to discover that they could essentially fill it out without any input from me. They were experts on vertebrates.


Birds belong to a larger group of animals called vertebrates (animals with backbones) and they make up a special group or class of the vertebrates called Aves.  Aves is the Latin word for bird.  All birds share many characteristics.

Feather Lab

Birds are the only animals in the world with feathers. There are two main types of feathers: contour feathers, which are found on the bird’s body, wings, and tail; and down feathers, which are fluffier and softer and lie close to a bird’s body, under the contour feathers. I showed the class a contour feather and explained that the hard center tube is called the shaft and the rest of the feather is the vane.  The shaft is a hollow tube made of a very hard material called keratin (the same material of which a reptile’s scales and our fingernails are made).

The vane is made up of hundreds of barbs that look like skinny hairs coming offing the shaft in rows.  Under a microscope you can see that tiny barbules grow off each of the barbs.  These barbules have rolled edges on one side and tiny hooks on the other that interlock side by side much like a ziplock seal.  We observed a feather beneath the microscope and the kids were encouraged to sketch and label their observations.  Encourage the kids to sketch and label the parts of a feather in their notebook.

Download the lab notebook printable, Feather Lab.

Bird Anatomy

We then talked about the other characteristics that make a bird different from other animals – wings, bone structure, binocular vision, excellent hearing, poor sense of smell, air sacs attached to each lung, and a crop and gizzard to aid in digestion. We played a fun relay game and then focused on bird adaptations using a number of stations that were set up to simulate bird beaks.

fill the bill thumb

We discussed the shape and design of different bird beaks and how the design helps birds to survive.  Eight stations were set up around the room, each with a different type of “food” that fits one of the eight different types of beaks described (e.g. styrofoam peanuts in a small aquarium of water to represent fish, a test tube of water to represent flower nectar). At each station there were three tools (e.g. chopsticks, pipette, tongs, slotted spoon), each representing a different type of bird beak function – one tool that worked well to get the food and two that didn’t work so well.  The students were asked to visit each station and to decide which tool would be the most efficient.  They were then asked to identify which food different birds would eat based on the shape of their beak.

To accompany this activity, I’ve created a slide presentation, Fill the Bill, available as a free download to my subscribers (a thumbnail is shown above).  Following this activity, we gathered in teams to play a relay-style game called Pass the Part.  The kids had a lot of fun.  Both of these activities were adapted from activities described in Birds, Birds, Birds! (Ranger Rick’s Naturescope Series).

Extension Activities

To expand upon what we covered, I suggested many extenstion or enrichment activities and the students were encouraged to choose at least one to do at home.

  • Begin a bird life list and go on a bird outing. You can find numerous local bird checklists online. 
  • Consider entering the US Fish & Wildlife Federal Junior Duck Stamp Program and Scholarship Competition.
  • Find a picture of your favorite bird (or draw one of your own) and then label the parts of the bird (crown, rump, breast, belly, primary feathers, nape, crest, throat, mandible, chest, thigh, chin, eye-ring, tail feathers, etc.)
  • Draw pictures of birds in their nature journal – use a field guide to help with details
  • Use Barb’s Outdoor Hour Challenge as inspiration to observe and study bird feet – Woodpecker Bird Study
  • Do a research report on a bird of choice
  • Create a poster that compares/contrasts the five vertebrate animal groups
  • Do a bird survey in your backyard.  I’ve created a free notebooking page to aid in recording your observations.

Download the Bird Survey Data Form

bird survey notebooking page

I’d like to encourage everyone to do the bird survey.  This is a fun family activity and a great way to contribute to ongoing citizen science.  Get started now and become acquainted with the birds in your area.  You will then be very knowledgeable, and can easily identify most (if not all) of the birds in your backyard for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count in February 2014.  I will be sharing more about this wonderful citizen science project as we get closer.  I hope you will join us.

September 1, 20131

More and more, students are leading the efforts to protect their local environment. Living in a world shrunken by technology, they have a better understanding of the interdependence of important natural resources in a larger, global setting.

citizen science

Each year between March 22 until December 31, the World Water Monitoring Challenge presents an important opportunity for young people around the world to become involved in safeguarding natural resources on a local, national and international scale. Students learn more about the watersheds in which they live, how watersheds work, and how protecting their waters can have beneficial impacts downstream. Teachers and students often use their data to discuss impacts in their local watershed and compare their findings with others.

This hands-on challenge builds public awareness and involvement in protecting water resources around the world by engaging citizens to conduct basic monitoring of their local water bodies. With an easy-to-use test kit, citizen scientists sample their selected waterway for four basic indicators of water quality—dissolved oxygen, pH (acidity), temperature and turbidity (clarity).

We will be participating again this fall.  I invite you to join us in this global monitoring effort.  Resources are available to help you. Click here for guides and lesson plans tointegrate this citizen science opportunity into your science curriculum.

July 31, 20133

National Moth Week is celebrated every year during the last full week of July.  We took part for the first time last week and were able to collect data in three distinct locations – two on the Oregon Coast and one in the North Sacramento Valley (outlined in the east by the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains and in the west by the Coastal Range).  In Oregon, we took on the challenge as described by hanging a white sheet between two trees with rope and upon nightfall, illuminated the area with a lantern.  In California, however, the moth came directly to us.

moth week

On our first night, much to our surprise, only one moth came to visit our sheet (image 1).  This little moth was very flighty however, and I was not able to get a very clear picture.  The kids eventually fell asleep so we removed the sheet and retired to our beds, vowing to try again the following day.   The second night took place about 28 miles north.  This time, not a single moth came to the sheet, however, we did observe one on the window screen of the house (image 2).  Later that day, we went for a long walk with Grandma and her friend Richard at South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve.  There, we observed several small Lepidoptera flitting about along the forest trail.  Though we were never able to get close enough for photos or identification.

It was hard not to get discouraged but our experience provided us with much to ponder.  Is it our battery operated light? Perhaps the energy efficient bulb?  Should we have left the sheet up all night long and checked in the morning?  Perhaps we should have smeared a fruit and stale beer concoction on the trees prior to dusk?  We discussed these possibilities on our long drive home the next day.

Later that evening, as we were preparing for bed once again, Buddy exclaimed, “Mom!  Come quick!  There is a moth on my bedroom door!”  Though we didn’t collect a lot of data, our enthusiasm has not waned and we look forward to trying it again in 2014. You can find a list of partners and how to submit your moth observations on the National Moth Week website, How to Submit Data.

Submitted to the Outdoor Hour Challenge Blog Carnival at Handbook of Nature Study.