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Congratulations to the Year 3 group of Adult Leaders and staff, who will complete training this this afternoon at the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve. Over the weekend, the adult leaders have been immersed in learning about citizen science data, conducting scientific investigations, and facilitating inquiry learning with youth. During the coming summer, these leaders will work with teams of youth to collect citizen science data, and conduct science investigations. Some of these leaders will carry the project outside of Minnesota for the first time.

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Click the link to learn more about Driven to Discover: Enabling Youth Inquiry Through Citizen Science. This National Science Foundation funded project seeks to expand the reach of Citizen Science for middle-school youth. Typically, citizen science--or public involvement science--involves the general public in collecting data that can be analyzed and interpreted by professional scientists. This project will carry citizen science a step further, enabling youth to design, carry out, and even report on their own research questions under the mentorship of science advisors at the University of Minnesota. By giving them the freedom and responsibility to design their own projects the students will gain a greater understanding and appreciation for science, and will grow to see themselves as scientists.

On Monday, April 16th, Graduate Assistant, Sarah Shimek, will share her thesis research in SpHC(Sports & Heath Center) room 9A at UMD from 3-4pm. The presentation "Connecting Scientists and Adult Leaders through Technology to Further Authentic Science Inquiry by Youth" will share the results of a recent study exploring the preferences of potential adult leaders towards the use of internet technologies to support connections with professional scientists and facilitate authentic scientific inquiry among middle-school aged youth engaged in citizen science research. Using the University of Minnesota Extension Driven to Discover: Authentic Inquiry through Citizen Science as context for the study, Shimek interviewed licensed teachers, informal science educators, and youth development leaders to answer the research questions:

  1. How do adult leaders describe the potential for using web-based technology as a means to achieve the scientist contribution to youth-based authentic science inquiry?

  2. How do adult leaders perceive plans to develop a website to facilitate the ongoing relationship of scientists, adult leaders, and youth? What do they perceive as needs and barriers for using this planned website? What website characteristics would encourage them to use this planned website?

Visit Driven to Discover:Enabling Youth Inquiry Through Citizen Science to learn more about this project, funded in part by the National Science Foundation. Sarah Shimek is a graduate student in the University of Minnesota Duluth Center For Environmental Education.

Three new articles in the October 2011 issue of the Journal of Extension focus on the effective design and assessment of Extension master volunteer programs:

In Reasons for Volunteering as a Mississippi Master Gardener, authors, Wilson and Newman, summarize a survey of 400+ volunteers. Their results suggest that these participants volunteer to learn more about horticulture, and help those in need. They are less inclined to volunteer for ego-driven or career-related reasons.

In Assessment and Evaluation of the Utah Master Naturalist Program: Implications for Targeting Audiences, author, Larese-Casanova, summarizes a study of the differential outcomes of a watersheds training model for professional and amateur naturalists. His results suggest that amateur participants consistently learned more and more positively rated the course than their professional counterparts. In the words of the author: "Demographic, assessment, and evaluation data were each in their own way particularly useful in determining program success. However, by using these three data sets together, a greater understanding of the effectiveness of the program was achieved."

In Evaluating Peer Impacts of a Master Forest Owner Volunteer Program, authors, Broussard Allred, Goff, Wetzel, and Luo, describe a study of participant and peer-to-peer outcomes of participation in an Extension volunteer program. Results suggest that participants were able to better manage their wooded property, promote community stewardship, and serve as leaders. Peer outcomes included information-seeking and goal-setting behavior, and changes in management activity. Authors conclude: "The results from the surveys demonstrate that local peer-to-peer programs can positively influence woodland owners in their communities as well empower the volunteers themselves."

These studies add to the rich base of research that informs the design, delivery, and evaluation of Extension master volunteer efforts. ESE programs like the Minnesota Master Naturalist Program, and Driven to Discover: Enabling Youth Inquiry Through Citizen Science both draw from and contribute to this knowledge of how we can support and empower citizens for community leadership and stewardship.

Driven to Discover: Enabling Youth Inquiry Through Citizen Science is a National Science Foundation funded program that involves middle school youth in asking scientific questions, designing and conducting their own research, and improving their understanding of science through participation in citizen science.

Today, the 2011 Annual Research Summit started with loads of science fun for participant youth. At the end of the research season, we invite all participating youth and their adult leaders to an overnight summit. On the first evening, they learn, teach and enjoy new science activities with their fellow youth, leaders, and professional University of Minnesota Scientists. Youth can choose from exploring the outdoors on a night hike, dissecting owl pellets, hanging camera traps, designing/testing roller-coaster-like tracks for ball bearings. Throughout the evening, activities engage youth in conversing and growing comfortable, collegial with science professionals and unfamiliar youth.

On day 2, the participant youth will dine with scientists, and explore the outdoors in more depth. They will also have a chance to present poster summaries of their summer inquiry projects for a group of scientists, their adult leaders and other natural resource volunteers. For many of these youth, this presentation is a practice run for their science fair or similar project later in the year.

Click below to watch a short video of the first evening at the Summit. Visit http://www.extension.umn.edu/citizenscience/ to learn more about Driven to Discover: Enabling Youth Inquiry Through Citizen Science.

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Summer is ending. The 2011 research teams involved in our Driven to Discover project are wrapping up their environmental monitoring and inquiry projects. Many of the youth members of these teams will participate in our annual Research Summit to describe the results of their scientific studies.

Deep in the winter and long before these students started their work, however, a few of our project team members delivered a web-based project orientation/training for staff at the Conserve School. You can learn more about this training on the Conserve School blog.

Conserve School served as a pilot site for the project Phase 2 - teacher/volunteer-led research teams with remote scientific support from our project team. Starting next year, the Driven to Discover team will train more adult leaders to lead similar programs. The experiences of Conserve School staff will help us improve training and support for our new adult leaders.

The Science for Citizens blog is a wonderful feature of the website scienceforcitizens.net. The blog today posted a list of 10 science project ideas to "keep young minds entertained as well as enlightened" as Autumn falls. They have included a wonderful group of opportunities, from the World Water Monitoring Day to gps marking and tracking the erosion of gravestones. All will do a good job of involving youth in scientific exploration and conservation.

Helping citizens explore, teach and conserve Minnesota's natural environment are primary goals of Environmental Science Education programming. One of the chief ways that we accomplish these goals is through engaging adults and youth in citizen science. For example, our Driven to Discover project supports youth researchers in developing/answering their own scientific questions through involvement on citizen science research teams.

The 4-H Fireflies team were featured in the Duluth News Tribune for their participation in the Driven to Discover: Enabling Youth Inquiry Through Citizen Science. Members of this team are in their second year of monitoring and studying Monarchs as part of the program. Access the article at http://goo.gl/ThZRk.

Driven to Discover is a National Science Foundation funded program that involves middle school students in asking scientific questions, designing and conducting their own research, and improving their understanding of science through participation in citizen science. Educators across MN will be trained to successfully lead these student experiences. You can learn more about this project at http://www.extension.umn.edu/citizenscience/about.html

University of Minnesota Extension programs in Environmental Science Education focus, in part, on connecting passionate and skillful educators, adult volunteers, and natural resource professionals into rich communities of stewardship and scientific research. Strong ties among these community members are one important way that we build the momentum for individuals to explore, teach about and conserve MN natural resources.

In many ways, however, it is easier than ever to foster a connection with individuals and experts interested in environmental science. In a recent blog post on Environmental Science Masters, author Donald Smith noted 33 environmental scientists worth following on Twitter. These may be an easy and worthwhile start to enriching your connections with networks of stewards.

See the post 33 Environmental Scientists Worth Following on Twitter at http://goo.gl/fg4Oj.

Check out a new video by Sheril Kirshenbaum - well-respected scientist, blogger, and author of Unscientific America. In this video, Kirshenbaum notes that: "Just 18 percent of Americans know a scientist personally."

Many of our Environmental Science Education programs aim to improve American experience and personal connection with science. The Driven to Discover: Enabling Youth Inquiry through Citizen Science involves youth with professional scientists, who support their inquiry projects. Youth participants interact closely with natural resources professionals during Field Day programs. One of the goals of the Minnesota Master Naturalist program is to connect volunteers into their larger communities of science and stewardship. Fostering these connections is a critical step toward achieving the "engaged scientific public" for which Kirshenbaum calls.

On April 15 and 16, a team of University of Minnesota Extension staff from Environmental Science Education and Youth Development trained a group of 11 volunteer adult leaders for involvement in our NSF-funded Driven to Discover: Enabling Youth Inquiry through Citizen Science project. In two jam-packed days, this cohort of teachers, naturalists and youth leaders took part in hands-on activities and discussions focused on collecting citizen science data and helping youth conduct scientific investigations. During the coming summer, these leaders will work with youth groups to collect citizen science data, record and question their observations about nature, and conduct their own scientific investigations. In the fall, youth will have the opportunity to share their investigations at an Annual Research Summit.

Visit http://www.extension.umn.edu/citizenscience/about.html to learn more about this program.