Teachers’ Lounge

11 Citizen Science Projects in the Bay Area

by sarah on May. 18th, 2009 2 Comments

There are dozens (possibly hundreds) of active citizen science projects out there. This short list provides a small sample of the diversity of projects available for you to involve your students in. Many of these projects also make the collected data available on their website so that anyone (including your students) can study it.

Ant Head
1. Bay Area Ant Survey (BAAS)

Project Focus: Ants.

When and where: Any time in the San Francisco Bay Area.

What do the citizens do? Collect ants, record data on where they were found, and send them to the California Academy of Sciences.

What do the scientists do? Your ant will be entered into the AntWeb database, which aims to document ant species worldwide. The Bay Area information is used to track the spread of an invasive ant species as well as the distributions of native species.

Other Info: Free ant collecting kits can be picked up in the Naturalist Center at the California Academy of Sciences. Teaching kits, which include additional tools for collection as well as a microscope and a dichotomous key for your students to identify their own ants, can be rented from our Classroom Kit Program.


Project Focus: Marine invertebrates and algae. Acronym stands for “Long-term Monitoring Program and Experiential Training for Students.”

When and where: Any time at certain coastal sites in California.

What do the citizens do? Monitor the distribution and abundance of key species in rocky intertidal or sandy beach habitats. Students gain valuable experience with data collection methods including vertical transects and random quadrats.

What do the scientists do? Regular monitoring helps scientists understand how key species are distributed around the Bay Area, and to track impacts of human activity and natural events (such as large storms).

Other Info: Teachers must attend a training to participate in this project. Special equipment is required and can be purchased, built, or borrowed from LiMPETS.

3. Quake Catcher Network

Project Focus: Earthquakes.

When and where: Any time, anywhere.

What do the citizens do? Become part of a global network of earthquake sensors. The accelerometer in your laptop can act as an earthquake sensor. If you have a desktop computer, a sensor can be attached via a USB port.

What do the scientists do? A dense global network of sensors will provide scientists with more detailed information about earthquakes and could allow for more effective rapid detection and early warning.

Other Info: K-12 educators can purchase USB sensors from the program for only $5. Lesson plans and activities are available on the website. Faculty and students at Stanford University and UC Riverside are involved in the project.

Bee and Sunflower
4. The Great Sunflower Project

Project Focus: Bees.

When and where: Any time, anywhere.

What do the citizens do? Grow a sunflower (seeds provided) and observe bees as they visit the flower.

What do the scientists do? You may have heard about declines in wild populations of bees, but what about urban populations? This project will build data about urban bee populations and how they interact with green areas.

Other Info: This project was started by a professor at San Francisco State University. The website includes a teacher page with lesson plans, ideas, and other resources.

Baby birds
5. NestWatch

Project Focus: Birds.

When and where: Any time, anywhere in North America.

What do the citizens do? Monitor birds’ nests that you find in your area. Use resources on the website to read up on identifying nests and eggs and what information to record.

What do the scientists do? The reproductive success of many bird species can monitored using the submitted data. Records submitted on paper over the past 40 years are being added to the database, creating a long-term picture of bird breeding and distribution.

Other Info: Be sure to read up on how to monitor nests without disrupting or endangering their occupants before you get started.

6. Great Backyard Bird Count

Project Focus: Birds.

When and where: This is an annual event; the next one takes place February 12 – 14, 2010.  You can participate anywhere in North America.

What do the citizens do? Spend 15 minutes (or more) counting birds. Record the numbers and species that you see and submit the data.

What do the scientists do? This annual snapshot of bird populations and distribution allows scientists to track changes in distribution, declines in populations, and shifts in the timing of migration.

Other Info: Tips for involving students and suggested classroom activities are available on the website. Photo galleries showcase pictures taken by participants.

7. Celebrate Urban Birds

Project Focus: Birds.

When and where: Any time, any urban area in North America.

What do the citizens do? Learn about 16 types of birds often found in urban areas. Then choose an area to observe for ten minutes and record the birds that you see.

What do the scientists do? The project is focused on urban green spaces and their effects on certain types of birds. Data collected helps determine how birds use different types of green spaces.

Other Info: Starter kits and other resources can be ordered or downloaded and are available in both English and Spanish. Art activities, gardening tips, and community-building ideas are also featured on the website.

8. Project BudBurst

Project Focus: Plants, phenology.

When and where: Any time, anywhere in North America.

What do the citizens do? Learn about phenology, the timing of life-cycle events. Select a plant to monitor and record the date of events such as the first leaf, the end of flowering, or the first ripe fruit.

What do the scientists do? Data collected through this and other projects helps scientists understand how climate change is affecting phenology and how changes in phenology can affect ecosystems.

Other Info: Supplemental resources for educators, including lesson plans for classroom activities, will be available on the website.

9. Frogwatch USA

Project Focus: Frogs and toads.

When and where: Any time, anywhere in the United States.

What do the citizens do? Use resources on the website to learn about the frogs and toads in your area and train yourself to recognize their calls. Choose a site to monitor and record the species that you hear there.

What do the scientists do? The data collected by this project can be used to monitor frog and toad populations, species diversity, and other information that can help inform conservation efforts.

Other Info: Amphibians are very sensitive to climate change and are suffering remarkable rates of population decline, making the information generated by this project especially valuable.

Light Pollution
10. GLOBE at Night

Project Focus: Light Pollution.

When and where: This is an annual event taking place in March. You can participate anywhere of the 110 participating countries (including the United States).

What do the citizens do? Observe the constellation Orion. Record which stars you can actually see. Dimmer stars may be obscured by light pollution.

What do the scientists do? Observations reported from around the globe can be used to study light pollution and population patterns.

Other Info: Family activity packets and teacher activity packets can be downloaded in several languages. 2009 has been named the International Year of Astronomy, so this would be a great time to participate.

11. GalaxyZoo

Project Focus: Classifying galaxies.

When and where: Any time, anywhere.

What do the citizens do? Look at pictures of galaxies on the GalaxyZoo website and classify them based on characteristics such as smooth vs. rounded, spiral vs. not spiral, and so forth.

What do the scientists do? The database of volunteer-generated classifications of galaxy characteristics has been used to answer (and raise) questions such as whether more spiral galaxies tend to rotate clockwise or counter-clockwise. New objects spotted in the photos by citizen scientists have been the subject of follow-up investigations, including a mysterious object first noticed by a teacher.

Other Info: With millions of images of galaxies collected by robotic telescopes, professional astronomers certainly needed a little help from citizen scientists. The user-friendly (and surprisingly addictive!) GalaxyZoo website guides participants through simple steps to classify the images. While this project doesn’t meet the goal of getting your students outside, it’s still a fun and rewarding way to supplement your astronomy curriculum.

If you’re not satisfied with only eleven suggestions, visit Citizen Science Central to find more. They have an extensive database of active projects, as well as a “toolkit” of resources for developing and supporting new citizen science projects.

Speaking of new projects, keep your eyes open for new citizen science projects coming soon from the California Academy of Sciences, including one focusing on spiders!

2 Comments So Far

  1. Noelle Kramer on Jun. 19th, 2009 at 9:31 AM

    This year my students were involved with the The Lost Ladybug Project and loved it. It might be another great project to add somewhere on your website, even if the university is not local. They need kids to look for lady beetles all over the US. Kids love ladybugs and can find them easily in their own backyards or neighborhood parks.

    I’m excited about some of the other projects you’ve listed here!

  2. John on Jun. 27th, 2010 at 2:22 PM

    This is a great list! I hadn’t heard of LiMPETS, but I am going to add it to our growing list of citizen science projects at Science for Citizens.

    John @ Sci4Cits

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