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Extension > Driven to Discover Citizen Science: Provoking authentic inquiry

joe-pye-weed.jpgWhile many people might not think much diversity could exist in their small well-manicured lawn or their local park's open space, these spaces actually represent a great opportunity to create insect habitat. By planting native vegetation instead of monocultures or non-native plants, we have a chance to transform these areas into habitat for native insects. Monocultures, such as a typical turfgrass lawn, or spaces with non-native plants don't typically support much insect life. By instead planting native plants that insects have co-evolved with, we can provide a food source for all life-stages of important insects.

Insects are extremely important for our ecosystem, not only for their incredible diversity, beauty, and services such as pollination, but also because they provide a large amount of the world's biomass. Many creatures, ranging from birds to lizards, eat insects, and those creatures are in turn eaten by others. However, in order for there to be insects, they must have a food source. Many insects are specialists that can only feed on a limited number of plant species, typically plants that they have evolved with over long time periods. In addition to serving as a food source and creating native insect habitat, native plants also tend to be adapted for the local climate, meaning that they tend to require less water and maintenance.

While more insect habitat is ideal, even just one or two native plants can make a difference. To start, find out what plants are native in your area. In Minnesota, some of my favorite native plants are liatris, asters, and of course the 13 different MN-native species of milkweed! It is also important to plant native trees, many of which also serve as a host plant for many insects. When purchasing plants, make sure that the plants haven't been treated with systemic pesticides. For more information on the importance of native plants, check out Douglas Tallamy's book "Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants." Good luck and happy planting!

Kelly Nail

University of Minnesota Monarch Lab


We love seeing and getting pictures of your research team in action! University of Minnesota Extension Communications put together three simple tips for taking great photographs - try these tips for powerful photographs of your monitoring, investigation and teamwork.

  1. Try striving for a candid photograph, where team members are engaged in interaction or tasks at hand. They might be seemingly unaware of the camera or perhaps glancing at it, but most importantly they're captured "in the moment," authentic -- not posed.
  2. Try to get a perspective that is "first person." The goal is for the audience to feel like they're sharing in that moment. Photos of team members/subjects are shot at eye level or from below eye level.
  3. Use natural lighting whenever possible - which is easy to do when you are in the field monitoring birds, water, and monarch larvae!


monarch.pngThe youth scientists in D2D clubs this summer are having great experiences watching birds, searching for monarchs, exploring wetlands, and so much more. These activities are usually fun and inspiring, and with a little facilitation, they can also be powerful learning experiences.

"What?!" you may be thinking. "Of course these are good learning experiences!"

But experiences alone don't automatically lead to learning. It's the reflection on the experience that generates understanding.

If you are familiar with Experiential Learning, you may recall the mantra "Do, Reflect, Apply." These three words are a simple summation of the process of learning from experiences:

  • DO: Have an experience, perform something, try something
  • REFLECT: Talk about the experience with others, describe what happened, analyze the context, actions and outcomes
  • APPLY: Consider how this experience might relate to other experiences in the future, consider what was learned, then apply insights to a new situation.
The D2D curriculum provides a couple resources to foster reflection: The Scientist's Log, the I Wonder board, the Sum It Up page and the "Doing science is like" supplemental activity. Here are a couple more ideas:

  • Rose/Thorn/Bud: At the end of each meeting, conduct a quick round robin discussion in which each youth scientist reports one "Rose" (highlight/what they liked best), one "Thorn" (difficulty/challenge), and one "Bud" (a new idea or skill) from the day.
  • Occasionally use the "Reflect & Rethink" page developed in the first year of the D2D program.
  • If you've done the "What is a scientist?" activity, have the youth do drawings of themselves as scientists...what qualities do they possess that make them scientists?
Here's a reflection idea from D2D club leader Kristi McCullough:


When preparing investigations, hold a "roundtable" in which youth present their research plans to each other. Peers can provide feedback and troubleshoot together. Kristi says this allows youth to sharpen their research skills by analyzing multiple research plans instead of just their own. By doing this throughout the club experience, the youth scientists gain confidence in their science skills and develop ownership in all of the club's projects.

As you hold your club meetings, be sure to allow time for reflection throughout the experience. Ask questions about what the youth say and do during these moments, and listen closely to their answers. As that reflection time helps youth scientists make sense of and learn from the fun and interesting experiences they are having, it will be time well spent!

Andrea Lorek Strauss

Extension educator, Environmental science education
University of Minnesota Extension, Rochester, Minnesota

References:
  1. Deidrick, J., Doering, S., Geiser, D., Kanengieter, H., Piehl, B., Stevenson, A. (2005). Questions for Guiding Experiential Learning: A field guide for adult volunteers, mentors, coaches, fair judges, etc. St. Paul: University of Minnesota Extension.
  2. Knapp, C. (1993). Lasting Lessons: A teacher's guide to reflecting on experience. Charleston, WV: Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools.

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