STEM Education Center


Driven to Discover: Citizen Science Inspires Classroom Investigation


The Full Design and Development project, Driven to Discover: Citizen Science Inspires Classroom Investigation, addresses the DRK-12 Teaching Strand. It addresses the life sciences at the middle and high school level. The project has two main goals:

1) to engage secondary students and their teachers in the full complement of science practices.

2) to build connections between ecology-based citizen science programs, STEM curriculum, and students’ lives.


Project Sponsor:


Principal Investigator: Gillian Roehrig


Citizen science refers to partnerships between volunteers and scientists that answer real world questions. In this project, existing citizen science programs will serve as springboards to foster engagement in science practices. Project goals will be met by addressing three specific objectives: 1) to incorporate science content and methods appropriate for secondary students into existing citizen science projects; 2) to promote disciplinary literacy in reading, writing, and quantitative reasoning; and 3) to support teachers in meeting the needs of diverse students, including English language learners and students with disabilities. Project activities include 1) intensive summer workshops that support teacher professional development, 2) ongoing interactions throughout the school-year to support classroom implementation, and 3) student research presentations in public, high profile venues including a science fair, online publications, and a print magazine.

Intellectual merit. The rationale for this project is based on three key assertions that are well supported in the literature and by the previous work of project team members:

1. Student engagement in the enterprise of science leads to important science education outcomes. Such engagement is recommended by state and national science education standards, benefits learning, improves test scores, and supports increased STEM capacity.

2. Citizen science provides an engaging, effective setting for science learning. Participation in citizen science can promote scientific thinking skills and lead to increased knowledge of science content. However, citizen scientists rarely engage in the full process of science, and there is tension between the use of citizen science as a tool for science and as a tool for education. This project addresses this tension by engaging teachers in classroom-friendly citizen science projects, and then showing them how the projects can serve as springboards to further first their own and then their students’ independent investigations.

3. Professional development focused on engaging teachers in the practices of science leads to increased use of this teaching strategy in the classroom. There is strong evidence that professional development programs that engage teachers as adult learners using and modeling the approaches they will use with their students are more successful, and that teachers who have themselves engaged in science research are more likely to engage their students in the full process of science.
Because project partners represent the broad range of settings in which the program can be implemented (three large urban districts, an inner-ring suburb, and three rural districts) this project will demonstrate the broad applicability of the above assertions. One urban partner (the Urban Ecology Center) is an Informal Science Education center, addressing the DRK-12 program goal to draw from the knowledge and practice of learning in out-of-school settings to enhance learning and teaching in formal settings.


Broader Impacts. Project deliverables—including curriculum resources and models of several student research presentation venues—will be disseminated widely, both within the school districts of participating teachers and beyond. Because these deliverables will be developed with specific consideration of the needs of the diverse audiences in today’s science classrooms, including students with disabilities and English language learners, they will be broadly applicable. Our use of multiple citizen science projects will model the usefulness of citizen science both as a means of facilitating student contributions to large scale research projects and as a springboard to full engagement in the practices of science. Research deliverables are focused on understanding outcomes for both teachers and students. For teachers, they will document how teacher professional development and on-going support from districts, professional development facilitators, and peer groups affects instructional practices. In turn, they will document how instructional practices promote student learning and engagement in the practices of science. In addition to the human resources development of participating teachers and their students and colleagues, the project will contribute to the professional development of graduate students in science education and the life sciences, and undergraduate pre-service teachers involved in the research.