The Cicadas Are Coming! The Cicadas Are Coming!
WNYC, one of New York City’s flagship public radio stations, is inviting families, students, classes, and nature lovers to join its massive citizen science project, Cicada Tracker. For between $8 and $80 and a couple hours of time, citizen scientists create their own soil-temperature sensor, send their data to WNYC, and have it mapped online.
- Cicada Tracker is a citizen science project. “Citizen science,” writes Daniel Edelson, the vice president of education programs at the National Geographic Society, “is the name for scientific research projects that engage members of the public in some aspect of their research.” How do students think the citizen scientists of Cicada Tracker are engaging or helping with real scientific research? (The biggest asset is sheer volume: Crowdsourced data provides a larger sample size than the cicada researchers could manage on their own. In this case, the data provided by citizen scientists help researchers predict when cicadas will emerge from their 17-year sleep by tracking where the ground is reaching the key temperature of 64 degrees Fahrenheit (17.8 degrees Celsius). At that temperature, scientists know cicadas will emerge.)
- Cicada Tracker is actually a perfect example of what Edelson calls community geography—where crowdsourced data is “georeferenced.” How do students think citizen scientists’ data is georeferenced in Cicada Tracker? (Each piece of data—in this case, soil temperature—is plotted on an online map.)
- Most citizen science projects involve outdoor data collection. Read our encyclopedia entry on citizen science. Have students list some of the diverse citizen science projects (Christmas Bird Count, BioBlitz, Earthdive, Project BudBurst, BugGuide, FrogWatch USA, NestWatch, etc.) and tools (FieldScope) listed there. Read through our extensive collection of instructional material on BioBlitz, Nat Geo’s annual citizen science project conducted with the National Park Service, and our “Neighborhood BioBlitz” activity. What local area do students think is a good area for a bioblitz? (A park or other biodiverse area.) What organisms do students think they will encounter there? Follow through with the activity, and see how the results compare with their predictions.
- Not all citizen science projects are nature-based. Re-read the encyclopedic entry and have students list projects that do not have an ecology or earth-science component. (SETI@home, which searches for extraterrestrial intelligence, was one of the first citizen science projects. Urban Sensing collects data about the culture and technology of Los Angeles. Ancient Lives has students transcribe ancient Greek texts.) Can students think of a citizen science project in which they could participate locally? Read our blog entry on “kid-sourcing” to get inspired! (Local colleges, as well as bird-watching and photography groups, can be good sources of information on ongoing citizen science projects. Scientific American also maintains an updated, excellent listing of citizen science projects. If you’re on the East Coast, of course, there’s Cicada Tracker!)
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