3 RULES FOR
Make it measurable. Make it cheap. Make it open.
BY ARIEL LEVI SIMONS
Jorge Luis Borges once wrote, in
the very short story “On Exactitude in
Science,” of a great empire that sought to
create a map so accurately detailed that it
grew to be as large as the empire itself. Early
in my teaching career, and recently out of
school, I thought (in a similar, albeit less poetic, fashion than Mr. Borges) about how I was
representing science as a high school teacher.
I wrestled with the same anxiety most, if
not all, science teachers feel about not covering enough content. I constantly felt rushed
to get through enough of the “big ideas,” and
yet still felt that most of what I was doing
existed only in the classroom and vanished
the moment my students left for the day.
I felt like I was trying to get my students
interested in science from the map I was
making, when I should be taking them to
the country itself.
It was a valid question, and after spending
that winter holiday thinking how to teach
environmental science without inspiring feelings of learned helplessness, I proposed to
my class that we find out for ourselves the
health of our local environment.
We began an environmental mapping project called TIGER (Technologically Integrated
Geotagged Environmental Research). We
started measuring and mapping water quality
at a number of sites in Los Angeles and soon
began measuring air quality and radiation
levels along the California coast.
During this time we started connecting with
other groups doing citizen science, ranging
from studying bird populations to classifying
galaxies. We’re seeing how citizen science
is becoming an increasingly useful tool in
research as scientists realize they can get
help from a much larger circle than just
From our experience with the TIGER project
come up with three rules to help classrooms
(and anyone else) create, manage, and collaborate on citizen science projects.
Education as Science,
Science as Education
My first experience in teaching science by
doing science happened in late 2009 when
I was finishing my first semester teaching an
environmental science course at Wildwood
School in Los Angeles, Calif. A number of my
students told me how relentlessly depressing
environmental science felt. Would the entire
course be about how our civilization was going
to collapse in an ecological catastrophe?
Rule #1: Make it measurable.
As any anthropologist with a notebook full
of field notes will attest, science doesn’t
always need to be quantitative to be effective.
However, we have stuck with numerical data
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