kids citizen science

Careers in Science interns collect and document a variety of species, including plants from the their own backyard, Golden Gate Park!


Did you know that everyday, students just like you are helping to answer real scientific questions? And they’re having fun too! From searching the ocean’s depths to tracking down insects to examining faraway galaxies, using data sheets and smartphones and online games, citizen scientists are engaged in a variety of interesting activities. There’s bound to be a citizen science project that’s right for you!


Activities                                                            Content Standards

Get Inspired                                                       NGSS: Science Practices

What do you want to do?                                  NGSS: Crosscutting Concepts

Search for Citizen Science Project                     Common Core: English Language Arts

Pick a Project                                                      Common Core: Mathematics

Make a Plan

Become a Citizen Scientist

Answer one of your own questions

Extend Your Experience 


To thoughtfully determine what citizen science project to participate in and then to join that community to help answer a scientific question.

  • Internet access

  • Attached templates (What Project Should We Pick?, Planning and Timeline, Scientist’s Notebook)

  • Paper & pens

  • Computer/projector and poster board for presentations
Activity 1: Get Inspired

What are some of the exciting discoveries and findings that have come from citizen science? How have students - just like you - contributed to real research?

  1. Have yours students search the internet for an article or video about citizen science that inspires you and makes you excited to participate in a citizen science project.
  2. Once your students have chosen a video or article, have them write a paragraph describing why they find it inspiring and what type of citizen science project they’d like to try.


Activity 2: What do you want to do? What can you do?

Now that your students have gotten some inspiration, it’s time to think about not only what type of citizen science project they’d like to try, but also what types of projects are feasible for them to do, based on where you live, what you’re able to do in your classroom or your school, what equipment you will need, etc.

  • For example, you might think that an ocean-based citizen science project sounds great - but if you don’t live near the coast, it may be difficult to participate… unless you can find one online, like Digital Fishers!

What would make you interested in participating in a particular citizen science project?

  • You might want to make sure you get to go outside, or you might want take part in an online citizen science project that seems like a game.
  • Maybe your students want to focus on birds, or maybe insects seem more exciting to them, or maybe they’d rather look at air or water quality.

Start Activity 2:

  1. Separate your students into groups with similar interests in their Citizen Science Projects
  2. With their group, make a list of two to three things they’d want in a citizen science project if they were going to participate.
  3. After their group has made a list, now find out from you, the teacher, if you have any rules about what type of citizen science project they can do.
    • You may want them to stay on school grounds, or maybe they can go on short field trips.
    • You as the teacher might need their participation in the project done by a certain date.
  4. Have your students add the list of instructions from you to the list they made with their group, and then add the full list to the left column of the “What Project Should We Pick?” template, under “Project requirements and questions.”
  5. Then under each item in the list, have your students come up with a question you might ask about a citizen science project to see if it fulfills that need/want. 
    • For example, if you want to be outside while participating in a citizen science project, you could ask “Does this project take place outside?” or “Where does this project take place?”
Activity 3: Search for Citizen Science Project

Your students should now have a list of needs and wants for a citizen science project.

  1. Allow your students to do a search for citizen science projects, and as they find projects that fulfill most or all of these needs/wants, have them write them down in the top row of the “What Project Should We Pick?” table.
  2. Then, in each box corresponding to the needs/wants, have your students answer their question about how this project does or does not fulfill that particular item.
  3. Tell your students to find at least three citizen science projects that meet most or all of your needs and wants.
    • As they research their projects, also determine what science question(s) are being asked that citizen scientists are helping to answer.​

Here are some ideas of where to search for citizen science projects:

  • SciStarter | SciStarter allows you to search for projects based on the type of activity you want to do (e.g., online, at the beach, etc.) or by topic (e.g., birds, physics, etc.).
  • Zooniverse | Zooniverse is a suite of online citizen science projects, with topics ranging from astronomy to weather to animals to archeology - and more!
  • Your local science museum and other science organizations | Search the website of your local
  • Science museum or other science-focused organizations in your region. Do they have any local citizen science projects you can participate in?
  • Lists of apps for citizen science:



Activity 4: Pick a Project
  1. Give time for your students to weigh the pros and cons of the three projects their group came up with.
    • Which project seems like it will be the most fun?
    • Which project meets all the requirements given by you, the teacher?
    • Go through the Pros vs. Cons activity to help them decide what project might be best.
  2. Then have your students rank their projects as first, second, and third choice.
    • You, the teacher, will have final say, so tell them to come up with a persuasive argument why their group should be allowed to do their first choice citizen science project. 
  3. Have them frame their argument this way:
    • 2 sentences that describe the project
    • 1 sentence about the science question(s) that are being asked in the project
    • 2-3 sentences that explain how the project meets the list of needs/wants
    • 2 sentences about what they think they’ll learn by participating in the project
    • 1 sentence about why they’re excited about the project
  4. Once you say YES to a project your students are ready to go! If you says no, have them construct an argument for the second or third choice project.
Activity 5: Make a Plan

With your student groups, have them go through all the information they can find about their citizen science project, and start making some lists.

  • What equipment are you going to need?
  • Are you going to need to learn some things before participating:
    •  How to identify some species?
    • How to do certain skills?
    • Does the website for your project offer tools and resources to learn these necessary components?
  • What are the steps, in order, that you need to follow to complete your role in the project to the best of your ability?
  • Are there different jobs you can divide up to make the work easier and more efficient?

Use the Planning and Timeline template to help your students organize their work.

Activity 6: Become a Citizen Scientist

It’s time to jump in!

  1. Using their Planning and Timeline document, have your students go through the steps of participating in your chosen citizen science project.
    • Make sure they are careful and thoughtful with each step - they want their data to be accurate and useful to scientists!
  2. Each day, your students will fill out a log in their Scientist’s Notebook to help them keep track of interesting things they are learning and any questions that they may have.
  3. When they are done participating, make sure they send in their data!
    • Some projects may have them upload it online, some projects collect data while they are participating (like the Zooniverse projects), and some ask them to send in their data sheets. Be sure to check how their data are going to make it to the scientists.
Activity 7: Answer one of your own questions

Now that your students have sent in their data to help answer a scientist’s question, it’s time to answer one of their own!

  1. Have yours students look back in their Scientist’s Notebook, and pick one of the questions they had along the way that they’d like to know the answer to.
    • What sort of information will they need to answer it?
    • Allow your students to conduct some research to see if they can figure out the answer.
  2. If they can’t find the answer, maybe they have asked a question that hasn’t been answered already! These are the types of questions that scientists ask and then do research to try to answer. Ask your students:
    • Will examining the data you or other citizen scientists collected help?
    • Would you need to collect new and different data to answer your question?
Extend your Experience

Classroom Science Conference

After doing research to answer questions, scientists then need a way to share their results and conclusions to a wider community of scientists and other interested people. Scientists might write a journal article, or do a radio interview. Often scientists will go to a conference - where hundreds to thousands of other scientists and interested people can share information about their research through presentations and posters.

Throw a classroom science conference!

  1. Each group should create either a presentation or a poster about the citizen science project they participated in. Topics to include in your presentation or poster include: 
    • Background information on the citizen science project, including what questions are being asked and who is asking them
    • Why you chose that particular project
    • What steps you followed to participate in the project
    • What type(s) of data you were collecting and how they will help answer the research questions being asked
    • Anything interesting you saw in the data you were collecting
    • The question you had while participating, and how you answered it (or how you would answer it, if it’s an original question)
    • Your findings/conclusions from participating in a citizen science project
  2. Here are some resources your students might find helpful in planning out their presentation or poster:
  3. As you listen to each group’s presentation or read their poster, come up with one thoughtful question you can ask them about their project.
Next Generation Science Standards

Science Practices:

  • Asking questions
  • Planning and carrying out investigations

  • Analyzing and interpreting data

  • Using mathematics and computational thinking

  • Constructing explanations

  • Engaging in argument from evidence

  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Participation in a citizen science project will guide your students through the full scientific inquiry process. As they figure out the questions being asked, they will determine how the methods and their data collection aid in answer those questions. They’ll examine their data to look for trends and then support their claims through evidence. Finally, they’ll communicate their results to a wider audience.

Crosscutting Concepts

  • Patterns.Observed patterns of forms and events guide organization and classification, and they prompt questions about relationships and the factors that influence them.

  • Scale, proportion, and quantity. In considering phenomena, it is critical to recognize what is relevant at different measures of size, time, and energy and to recognize how changes in scale, proportion, or quantity affect a system’s structure or performance.

  • Stability and change. For natural and built systems alike, conditions of stability and determinants of rates of change or evolution of a system are critical elements of study.

Most participation in citizen science requires careful observation, distinguishing differences among similar-looking objects, and/or tracking change through time, giving students practical experience with fundamental concepts in science. Students will examine their data in the context of a large, national community of citizen scientists and should understand why scientists need these type of data in quantity to accurately answer their questions.

Common Core

English Language Arts Anchor Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Students will peruse many websites in the process of searching for citizen science projects that meet all their criteria. Once they have found potential projects, they will need to determine the questions being answered. To do so, they will need to think critically about the information being presented and make inferences about the overall focus of the projects, the research interests of the scientists involved, and what types of questions can be answered through the data being provided by the citizen scientists.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their
  • development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

Students will summarize their findings about various citizen science projects to write and make a persuasive argument to their instructor in favor of participating in a project of their choosing. If the instructor does not approve their project at first, students will need to revise their summaries and arguments or retry with a different project.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

Students will need to take information presented textually via websites and trends and patterns found in the data they’ve collected to make logical conclusions.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

In choosing one of their own questions to investigate, students will need to do research to determine what is known about that particular topic. They will continue researching existing information to answer their question, or will need to research how to answer their question on their own.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

As part of forming logical arguments based on their citizen science data, students will need to be able to support their claims based on evidence. To communicate their conclusions to a wider audience, they will need to present information and results coherently and in a manner that builds logically to their conclusions.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

To communicate information about their projects and their findings, students may design a poster or PowerPoint presentation to present their results. Regardless of format, creating visually compelling displays of their data will be important in clear communication.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.2 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

Communication in many forms is a key part of this project. Students will have ample opportunity to work on their writing and speaking skills, and with constructive feedback from their instructor(s) and peers, will learn and improve.

Standards for Mathematical Practice

Through participating in citizen science, students will need to determine how their data are answering the question(s) (problems) being posed by the scientists in charge of the project. While their data will likely not answer (solve) the question, students will understand how their data, combined with data collected by the larger community of citizen scientists, will be used by scientists to try to address the question(s). Because they are contributing to a real research project, data provided by students will need to be accurate, encouraging careful collection and precision.

Students will use their own or other data to try to answer their questions. Examining data to understand how they could potentially answer a question will require critical thinking and both abstract and quantitative reasoning. Once they think they can answer their question, students will need to create logical arguments that support their conclusions.

To examining their data to answer a question, students will need to determine what tools will best help them visualize results: spreadsheets, pie charts, bar graphs, etc.

Citizen Science Toolkit
Citizen Science Toolkit

Check out our Citizen Science Toolkit, designed to help educators integrate citizen science projects into classroom curricula or afterschool programming.

It contains resources—including lessons, readings, and worksheets—to help communicate the value of citizen science to students and cultivate their sense of empowerment and impact when performing science investigations.

Appropriate for: 6th Grade - 12th Grade
Standards for: 6th Grade, 7th Grade, 8th Grade, 9th Grade, 10th Grade, 11th Grade, 12th Grade
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Activity Time: 120 minutes
Subjects: Constructing Explanations, Life Science