Building 21st-Century Skills Through Travel
The 6C's of education, developed by Michael Fullan, include creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, citizenship, and character. These competencies are essential for today's learners to be successful in the 21st-century. It is more important (in my opinion) for educators of today to provide opportunities for students to practice these skills than it is to teach content matter. It's great to have both, but ignoring 21st-century skill building doesn't do anyone any favors.
There are many ways to facilitate the development of these competencies in the classroom, which I will post on in the near future. However, opportunities for skill development exist beyond the walls of the classroom. Those learning experiences are profound in a way that classroom activities just aren't. Travel is one very powerful avenue for competency development, particularly the 6C's.
Whether it be abroad, a weekend camping trip, or even a day trip to a local park, traveling offers an opportunity to building these skills by nature. By removing children from familiarity, by changing up their day-to-day, they get exposure to input that inspires curiosity, exploration, and inquiry. They meet new people, have novel experiences, and make observations that challenge prior thinking.
Parents and educators, as summer approaches think about how you can utilize the world to help your children and/or students develop or amplify the 6C's. Travel presents these opportunities organically, but you can deepen the learning experience by adding input through new layers, added expectations or challenges. When I was teaching, I was highly involved in our school travel program. I took a group of students to Costa Rica, and rather than just hanging out like I might do on a family vacation, I added purpose, in this case, tropical biology studies. I facilitated student-directed project-based learning, open-inquiry, and problem-based learning activities, before, during, and after the trip.
Below I have detailed how traveling innately helps students build these competencies in addition to suggestions for how to add another element to strengthen the impact of the learning experience.
How to Incorporate the 6C's of Education into Travel
How it Comes Naturally:
Getting away from the same old exposes students to other creative avenues that they may never have seen or experienced before. Art, music, dance, design, architecture, infrastructure, and so on, vary from region to region and culture to culture. If students are observing and experiencing more of the same day-after-day, they're limiting their creative potential. Exposure to different cultures and ways of doing things inspires new ideas with new ways of thinking.
How to Enhance the Skill Building Experience:
One way to do this is to ensure exposure to diverse experiences, especially if you have something specific in mind. For example, you might plan a trip around a specific cultural event, such as the Merrie Monarch festival in Hawaii where students would be immersed in an authentic Hawaiian experience. Hawaii is an incredible learning lab by nature, but including a cultural experience like the Merrie Monarch festival would bring learning to another level. Provide input that ensures exposure to a variety of creative displays.
How it Comes Naturally:
Traveling never goes according to plan, not exactly anyway. I have been challenged in some way on every trip I've ever taken, school trips included. Take a look at some of those mishaps in my travel blunders series. Sometimes you just have figure it out. There's no option. If you get lost in a mountain valley and your phone doesn't have a signal, you have to figure it out (happened to me). If one of the campgrounds you reserve for a school trip has patrons offering your students moonshine, you have to figure it out (happened to me).
Another great thing about school travel is that you're stuck with a group of people, whether you like them or not. Group travel always presents opportunities for team-building, conflict resolution, problem-solving. In other words, critical thinking is a must while traveling. You as the educator can help facilitate opportunities for critical thinking.
How to Enhance the Skill Building Experience:
I love problem-based learning and project-based learning activities to help students build critical thinking skills. There are many ways to do this. One would be to have travelers problem-solve hypothetical scenarios, as they may turn out to be a reality. Getting lost without access to a GPS could have been prevented by simply having a physical map on hand. This is an example of a hypothetical problem that students could problem-solve solutions for before they take off on their trip.
What I often do is ask that students research their travel destination beforehand and design a student-led project around some aspect of that destination, particularly pertaining to local issues. For example, I assign community action projects to all of my student travelers, regardless of destination and purpose. This project requires that students identify a problem that exists at their travel destination, make an action plan to solve the problem, and then they take action. This is a great project to practice critical thinking because they are addressing real-world problems. Check out community action projects in my TpT store. Take a look at these earlier blog posts on community action projects for guidance - "10 Community Action Project Ideas to Wrap up the School Year" and "Four Ways Students Can Take Action Today".
How it Comes Naturally:
Communication happens organically while traveling, and a lot in the planning process as well. If your students are part of the planning process, they will likely be communicating with travel agents, friends and family for tips and advice, travel bloggers for ideas. They may have to communicate with home owners to reserve an Air B and B or tour guides to plan excursions. There is also a lot of communication that naturally takes place while traveling as well. My students tend to talk to locals for recommendations, directions, or even just to chat. Communication is another skill that is magnified on group trips. I need to communicate with my students when we will start the day, where we will meet back and at what time, and they need to listen and follow directions.
Team-building activities, such as kayaking with a partner, really tests one's patience, strength, and communication skills.
How to Enhance the Skill Building Experience:
If your students are not involved in the planning process, find ways to include them. This is a great option for homeschoolers and for student-directed project-based teachers. Check out this free educational travel planning checklist for guidance.
I highly recommend project-based learning in general to help students work on their communication skills while traveling. Working with community experts is an important part of project-based learning, among other things. Go back to any number of my posts on PBL for details if you're not sure what project-based learning is. My students are required to use three community experts on every project, travel related or not.
For example, one of my Costa Rica students did her community action project on primate electrocution. She researched experts on the issue and came across the Sibu Sanctuary, a primate reserve and rehabilitation center in Costa Rica. My student connected with Vicki, who started the organization, planned a tour of the sanctuary while on our trip, she interviewed Vicki while we were there, and utilized Vicki's expertise in her final action plan. The communication skills at play here are vast and comprehensive. Consider using my PBL toolkit to get students rolling on student-directed project-based learning today. Summer travel is a great place to start!
How it Comes Naturally:
Collaboration doesn't happen as organically while traveling as some of the other "C's". Collaboration while traveling or at home for that matter takes effort, planning, networking and organization. One could easily travel to an all-inclusive resort, lock themselves in their hotel for a week, and not talk to a single person. Collaboration can happen naturally on a trip, but open-mindedness is key. I have so many examples of this on school trips, where collaborations weren't necessarily sought out, but students made themselves available to the possibility by simply asking questions and inquiring.
For example, I took students to Florida to study marine biology several years ago. We stayed at a campground that had a little hut by the entrance where a man made decorative fish out of coconuts to sell to tourists. My students, for whatever reason, were so intrigued by this. They started off by drilling the poor guy with question after question. By the end of the week a couple of my students were sitting in his hut learning how to make coconut fish decorations. It mind sound like a meaningless experience, but my students not only practiced collaboration skills (without even realizing it), but they enriched their travel experience overall.
How to Enhance the Skill Building Experience:
There are a lot of great ways to promote collaboration while traveling. One way is to ask that students collaborate with their community experts for their PBL projects. Technically students do not need to collaborate with their community experts. They just need to use their expertise in their final product or authentic presentation. One of my students did a her community action project for Costa Rica on the issue of endangered sea turtles. She created a "tips for tourists" brochure and collaborated with hotels around the country to have those brochures placed in hotel lobbies and on hotel websites around the country (Costa Rica).
You or your students might also organize learning activities on the trip such as volunteering at an event, attending a cooking class, service learning experiences, and more. You might even consider collaborating with another youth organization where an "exchange" might take place. We often had exchanges with other schools where our students traveled to other alternative education schools in the state and spent the day as a "student" in their school, and vica versa.
These photos are from service learning trips where students not only helped the community but became immersed in it. The far left photo is a student playing in a community baseball game.
How it Comes Naturally:
It seems as if traveling to build citizenship would be contradictory, as you'd be removing students from the society in which they should be active in making a difference. The great thing about traveling when it comes to citizenship is that students see a variety of ways of life. Students gain a broader and more robust worldview. By having exposure to different people, different customs, and issues on a global scale, students are more apt to have an informed and comprehensive perspective, to then be more responsible citizens in their own societies.
How to Enhance the Skill Building Experience:
Again, problem-based learning and project-based learning are great ways to do this. Whatever you decide to do, facilitate a learning experience that incorporates a variety of perspectives. You can ask that students interview locals, organize storytelling experiences, connect students with penpals before the trip and meet with them when they arrive. Organize learning experiences on the trip that aren't excluded to touristy spots or expensive excursions. Plan a trip that requires students to see the destination as it truly is - the authentic version of their travel location.
How it Comes Naturally:
When I think of "character" in this context I think of traits like integrity, morality, responsibility, honesty, bravery. You know, admirable traits. Character building comes naturally in travel, again, because students develop empathy. They see more and experience more outside of themselves. Outside of their own bubbles. When they're out of their element, when there is discomfort, when their actions reflect the group and where they come from, when they open their minds to other perspectives and ideas, they can better understand and develop their own goals, priorities, values, and moral compass. Traveling puts students in the position to have to open their minds, reflect on who they are, modify, and continue forward as a better person.
How to Enhance the Skill Building Experience:
I think the 5C's already listed play a role in the development of character. Communicating and collaborating with others, exposure to new and different ideas and ways of life, access to new and interesting creative outlets, problem-solving, conflict resolution, etc. all shape someone's character. So try all of the things already mentioned with your students while traveling - project-based learning, inquiry, problem-based learning, student activism, service learning, cultural exchanges and more would all add significantly to character development while traveling.
I would love to hear about your travel plans for the summer, and if they're educational in nature. Worldschoolers, I'd love to hear your thoughts! How do you enrich the travel experience, or do you just let it happen naturally? Thanks for stopping by! Happy summer travels!
For more educational travel resource, stop by my TpT store, where you can find a variety of free student travel resources. You can also look back to previous posts on student travel.
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For those of you that follow my blog closely you are likely not surprised that I'm writing a post on my distaste for worksheets, and for you I'll be preaching to the choir. Others may be thinking "ugh, another progressivist posting about how terrible worksheets are." I assure you, ditching worksheets is not a progressive move anymore. You might be neither of those people and are just curious about why worksheets may not be an optimal learning strategy and what some alternatives may be. I hope to provide some insight to all and some alternatives to worksheets.
I have used "worksheets" before and will continue to use them occasionally in my teaching career. However, I use them sparingly, and I use a specific style of worksheet. When I use the word "worksheet" in this post from now on, what I am referring to is that of the "drill" variety: pages or packets filled with the same questions over and over again, slightly modified, that have a right or wrong answer. I'm going to tell you why I don't use worksheets, common excuses for assigning worksheets and alternatives. As you move into summer, reflect on your practices this year. Will you use worksheets next year?
Why I don't give my students worksheets:
1) I would be a hypocrite.
It's an integrity thing for me. I talk heavily about the benefits of experiential learning in this blog. If I were to say "yes" to drill worksheets, I wouldn't be practicing what I preach. I support and promote experiential learning because I have observed the benefits, and science supports it as an effective learning tool. The same can not be said for worksheets, at least not in isolation.
For more information about experiential learning check out this blog post -"What is Experiential Learning, Anyway?". You can also hear my thoughts in my interview about experiential learning on the podcast, A Teacher's Shoes.
2) Worksheets do not accommodate all learning styles.
Worksheets are a one-size-fits-all approach, and learners are not one-size-fits-all. This can leave many students confused, frustrated, and deflated. Differentiation is a popular approach to accommodating many learning styles. At a minimum, then, leave worksheets as an option, but beware that students may not be choosing to do worksheets because they learn best that way. They are likely choosing worksheets because they offer concrete right or wrong answers. It's easier than having to problem-solve, work together as a team, reach out to community members as a resource, as some non-worksheet learning activities would require of students.
3) Drill worksheets do not have a place in life outside of school.
The only time I have ever done worksheets in my life was when I was in school. It would never come up in life; not to get a job, not to keep a job, not to plan for a family, not to plan a trip. Drill worksheets serve no purpose in life, so why do them? I'm short on time as it is. Adding busy work that serves no purpose is not something I'm going to do. Prospective employers are never going to ask students in an interview how well they can fill out a worksheet. They're going to want to know if the student has a thorough understanding of the content necessary to succeed in their field. They're going to want to know if the student can work well with others, control their impulses, critically and creatively think, work independently. These skills aren't gained by completing drill worksheets.
4) Worksheets "decontextualize" learning.
Drill worksheets are loaded with questions or problems in isolation from the whole. For example, I would get worksheets in high school chemistry that were filled with chemical equations to be solved. We would practice over and over solving these equations with specific formulas, yet I had no idea how those formulas applied to chemistry or what they really meant. I wasn't learning chemistry. I only learned how to regurgitate information that had little meaning.
I think the Alfie Kohn quote below is referring to "schooling" in general, but it applies to drill worksheets, which tend to be tasks isolated from a bigger picture. Worksheets perpetuate this problem. By hammering in discrete units, students are collecting piles of bricks but not building a functional home.
5) Worksheets do not ignite a passion for learning.
Worksheets are boring! Some may say, "who cares, students don't have to like it. That's the real-world. Life isn't always fun and games. Better to prepare them for that now." That is something I hear a lot and it's very frustrating to me. Students can quickly lose their passion for learning if worksheets are the norm. What I want for my students is to love learning. You will never have students seeking you out years down the line to thank you for your worksheets or to share with you the incredible impact those worksheets have had on their lives. They will thank you for building a relationship with them, creating opportunities for them to pursuit their interests, challenging them, and giving them autonomy and choice, because it's those things that make a real and important impact on their lives.
I assure you that the student comments above are not in reference to all of the worksheets she was given in school. She is talking about experiences she had. Worksheets are not life-altering. To hear more about this particular student's story, listen to my podcast interview. Link above.
6) Worksheets train students for careers of the past.
Drill style worksheets don't teach Important 21st-century skills such as tech literacy, creativity, social/emotional skills, collaboration, communication, teamwork, critical thinking, and other skills employers of today desire. Rote memorization is no longer a skill worth spending a lot of time cultivating because information is so readily available. It wasn't 50 years ago, at which time worksheets made more sense. Now drill worksheets are an archaic practice.
I have talked to a lot of teachers and parents that defend drill worksheets. Below I have listed some common answers I get from parents and teachers when asked why they give out or support the use of drill worksheets. I have included some alternatives to satisfy those justifications:
1) " I assign worksheets to students as content review."
Many teachers give worksheets to students with the intention of hammering in an idea or concepts covered that day in class or in that unit.
What's the problem with that?
Unless that content is tied to life, the real-world, or something personally meaningful to the student, that content won't be remembered, regardless of how many times they repeat repeat repeat.
What to do instead:
If your purpose for using review worksheets is to help students memorize content, consider doing an activity that will leave a lasting impression. Then students will not only remember the content long enough to pass a test, but may remember it 20 years later, and say to themselves, "Hey! That's an example of commensalism! I remember that from that ecology vocab scavenger hunt we did in Ms. Segar's bio class! Remember that egret we saw sitting on that cow?" (scavenger hunt free in my store) As an experiential educator, I believe "leaving a lasting impression" requires that the learner be involved in some way. A scavenger hunt where students can observe and experience the ecology vocab in action is more memorable than copying definitions onto a worksheet. Even a combination of an activity and a worksheet would be more effective than a worksheet alone (if you insist that the worksheet is necessary).
2) "I sometimes give out worksheets as a formative assessments."
Sometimes teachers just want to see if students know the material that they've been taught. I do understand why teachers would do this. It's quick, it's easy, it's cut and dry.
What is the problem with that?
The problem is that drills are typically in isolation from the whole. It's difficult to see how drill problems connect with the an overarching concept. You often miss misconceptions that students have developed, and you wouldn't necessarily know if students understand the concepts or if they are just great at memorization.
What to do instead:
Try other versions of formative assessments. I get a lot of mine from the book "Science Formative Assessment" by Page Kelly. It gives a ton of quick, easy formative assessment strategies that are designed to reveal where students are having trouble or forming misconceptions. There are so many creative formative assessment strategies out there. Do a simple Google search or head to Pinterest. You can even simply ask students to write a reflection, which is what I do with my students, as reflection is an important part of experiential learning.
3) "Worksheets give students practice."
I hear this one a lot, and understand why someone might think this. A drill worksheet likely does give students practice, but what is it that they're practicing exactly, and is it something we want them practicing?
What is the problem with that?
What students are practicing is memorization for the purpose of passing a test. This just isn't necessary anymore. They have access to information all of the time. The internet is not going away. I would argue that using worksheets to "practice" is doing more harm than good. If students are doing drills for practice, and they are doing the drills incorrectly or don't understand the material, the "practice" is just reinforcing misconceptions and confusions.
What to do instead:
Again, if the purpose for drilling is to get students to memorize the information, try making it experiential. Get your students involved. Not only are they more likely to remember the concepts, but they will have a clearer understanding of it. There are so many great ways to do this like inviting speakers to talk about their research, taking students on field trips, collaborating with the community, inquiry-based learning, problem-based learning, project-based learning, STEM, STEAM, maker education and more. These are all effective strategies for practicing and understanding content, while providing opportunities for students to build important life skills. For student-directed problem-based learning, project-based learning, maker, and inquiry resources, check out my store, Experiential Learning Depot.
This is much easier said than done for some teachers. I have math teachers in mind here. For math teachers, check out a previous post here written by Tony Geraci. He is a high school math teacher that incorporates 21st-century skills into his curriculum. Check it out here.
The series of photos above illustrates a STEM project where students worked cooperatively to build a treehouse for LEGO people as an extension of a book we read on citizenship. Not only did students learn about citizenship, practice team building, and work with their hands, they also learned math and physics concepts. They are more likely to remember and understand those concepts, as they had to actually apply them to be successful.
4) "Sometimes kids have to do things they don't want to do. That's life."
I hear this one a lot, "That's life", as if drills prepare students for life. I myself have said this before, especially when I'm frustrated with my students and their lack of productivity.
What's the problem with this?
I have to take a step back and remember that life is hard as it is, especially for teenagers. My students have experienced a lot in their short lives. They are tougher and more responsible than they should have to be at 16-years-old. Worksheets are also not a real-world reality. Students will never encounter a job in which they have to sit at a desk and fill out worksheets for the purpose of rote memorization.
What to do instead:
There are many things that our students do in life that they don't like. You don't need worksheets to teach them about hardship or work ethic. Encourage students to prepare for the real-world by getting a job or starting a business. Facilitate learning experiences that are student-directed so they can practice desired career skills. Problem-based learning is a great example activity. Promote community relationships with your students such as starting a mentorship program or organizing service learning experiences.
Want to toughen kids up and help them understand the value of hard work? Have them spend nine days working on an off-grid chicken farm in the middle of the mountains. Everything takes effort. I never heard "that's doing too much" from one of my students because saying that wasn't an option. I understand that these experiences aren't realistic for all. Consider then bringing the challenge to the classroom. Use the community to make your point.
5) "Worksheets are quick and easy to plan and implement. Sometimes I just need a break from rigorous lesson planning."
This is completely understandable. Teacher burnout is real and powerful. Sometimes teachers just need a breather. There is no problem with that.
What to do instead?
Like I said, I get it. If you must give out worksheets to give yourself a break, try to do it sparingly. There are other ways to take breaks that are better for everyone:
Put on a movie! I know this can be frowned upon, but there are so many educational movies out there. There are documentaries galore about any subject you can think of! I love throwing on news series for students because they are relevant and promote citizenship. Check out my Vice News episode activities. Note: I call these resources "worksheets" in my store only because I don't know what else to call them. I assure you, they are not drill worksheets.
Find resources that are quick and easy to plan that are applicable to life. For example, rather than giving students a drill worksheet on basic math principles, ask them to write a travel budget. Rather than giving students a vocabulary worksheet where they copy down definitions, have them create a slideshow with vocab definitions along with a photo that represents the definition. One of my coworkers used to do this with her students. It helps students make real connections with the words in a more interesting and effective way.
One final method of limiting intense lesson planning is to incorporate student-directed learning activities into your curriculum. Your students direct the learning experience while you facilitate. No lesson planning. Check out my store for student-directed learning resources AND refer back to blog posts from my student-directed learning series for guidance.
As you drift into summer, reflect on your year. What did you do well? What could have gone better? What changes do you want to make? What kind of people do you want your students to become? How do you want your students to perceive learning? Does your current approach support your teaching goals? Are drill worksheets working for you, and more importantly, are your students getting anything out of them?
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Spring is the perfect time of year for citizen science! It's warming up outside, students are getting antsy and exhausted, testing is underway, breaks are badly needed. On top of that, things start to get active in the world of wildlife, especially in temperate regions like Minnesota. Animals emerge from hibernation, migrating species begin their long journeys to their summer sanctuaries, and it's breeding season for many organisms.
Citizen science is when citizens, like your students, have the opportunity to play an active role in wildlife studies or projects going on around the world that benefit from participation by citizens. Hawk Watch International, for example, hosts hawk counting events at their migration sites that anyone can participate in. Volunteers count passing hawks and record their count to an online database.
Citizen science is a great learning tool for many reasons. One is the application of science concepts to the real-world. Participating in citizen science also shows students that they can play a role in improving the community and the world around them. They are active citizens, an important 21st-century skill.
I highly encourage organizing classwide citizen science activities or taking a project-based learning approach to citizen science. Take a look at my PBL Toolkit to get students rolling on citizen science PBL projects. Using my Community Action Projects resource is one project-based learning approach that makes sense in this case, as students would be actively participating in projects that better the community.
The following is a list of some of my favorite citizen science projects to use with my high school students AND my own young children. The projects listed below are appropriate for ALL ages. You could get students involved either part of school curriculum, at home for homeschool projects, on a family camping trip, or over the summer to keep students busy and sharp, among other things, There are many more citizen science programs out there other than the 20 listed below. I'd love to know about others that you've done with your students!
20 Citizen Science Projects for Students of All Ages
1. Globe at Night
The purpose of this project is to raise awareness about light pollution and its impact on communities. Students can report their night sky brightness observations daily. All they need is a computer or phone. This would be a great supplemental learning experience to a broader PBL project on light pollution.
This website has a variety of projects to get involved in, which is nice when it comes to student-directed learning. Students can pick a citizen science project in line with their interests such as insects, mammals, migrating species, invasive species and more. What's really cool about this website is that is promotes communication and collaboration with naturalists and research scientists.
3. Project Budburst
Project Budburst focuses on plant observations. The intention of the program is to understand human impact on wildlife, particularly plants. One area of focus right now is determining how plants are and will continue to respond to climate change. This site has a tab for educators with age specific learning activity recommendations.
4. Project Noah
Project Noah is another citizen science option that emphasizes wildlife observation and inquiry. There is a section for educators that has a "classroom" feature where teachers can set up and manage class citizen science projects. The education section also provides investigation ideas from mimicry to backyard ecology. This is a great option for homeschoolers as well. You can add as many students to the "class" as you wish. It would be a great independent PBL project because citizen science naturally collaborative, an important element of PBL.
5. Project Squirrel
This citizen science project seems a bit dull. I mean, squirrels? They're so ubiquitous and kind of a nuisance. They aren't rare. They aren't large predators. They are a slightly cuter version of a rat. Squirrels, however, can tell us a lot about the health of the surrounding environment. Students can get involved in this project by recording squirrel observations and photos. It's a more interesting and hands-on way to learn about ecosystems. There is also a special experiment students can get involved in that looks at food patches.
This resource is incredible. What's different about Zooniverse compared to the other citizen science options mentioned so far is that the projects cross disciplines. There are projects on climate, history, literature, medicine and even art, not just natural science. One of the projects on there right now is called "Anti-Slavery Manuscripts". This project was added by the Boston Public Library to include citizens in transcribing their collection of letters written by anti-slavery activists. I think the best feature of this website is that students can create their own citizen science projects to add to the site, which citizens from all over the world can then contribute to. That would be a really cool PBL project and deep learning experience for older students or as a class project. I used to do large group projects like this with my advisory.
SciStarter is similar to Zooniverse in that there are a variety of citizen science projects available to choose from AND students can create their own. It is essentially a massive catalog of citizen science projects. One of my favorite things about this website is their blog. The blog articles illuminate the impact of citizen science on our understanding of the world.
This is a super black and white, straightforward catalog of citizen science projects in the U.S. It is not fancy and does not have a special section for educators like many of the websites mentioned so far. However, the catalog is exhaustive. If you are having your learners do student-directed PBL projects, this website is a great place to start. They can search for ideas relevant to their interests.
9. World Water Monitoring Challenge
This project is fantastic for raising awareness and educating students on water issues across the globe. Students monitor their local waterways by performing water quality tests. Consider implementing scientific open-inquiry labs on water quality in your area (check out my inquiry-based learning toolkit for guiding materials - I also have several student-directed water pollution activities in my store including inquiry, PrBL and PBL..) Students that are especially passionate about this issue and want to get more involved can apply to be ambassadors on the website. The downside to this citizen science project is that it is not free. Specific water quality kits need to be purchased to participate. One upside (of many) is that it's global.
10. The Great Backyard Bird Count
This citizen science project is only open for participation a few days per year. There are four designated days for citizens from all over the world to count birds. This year (2019), almost 33 million birds were counted. Students can count birds, submit observations, and explore the data. There is also a photo contest students can take part in! Your students will need access to smartphones and the eBird app to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. Hawk Watch International, which I mentioned above, is a similar program, but specific to hawks.
11. Journey North
Journey North is a citizen science option that specifically focuses on migrating species such as the monarch butterfly and whooping cranes. There are many organisms to choose from as well as specific projects. The Symbolic Migration project is one example where students from around the world create paper butterflies and send them to students in Mexico. Those students then care for them through the winter and return them in the spring, symbolizing butterfly migration. This is a cool way to integrate art, geography, science, history, and culture, as well as to encourage global learning and collaboration. My kids and I participate in the loon program each spring, which is the MN state bird (my place of residence).
12. Butterflies and Moths of North America
As the title of this citizen science option suggests, this particular project is specific to butterfly and moth sightings across North America. Students can take photographs and record sighting locations of butterflies, moths, and/or caterpillars to the database. Students can open and analyze data maps. This is another one that is easy to participate in as long as you're in North America. Migrating moths and butterflies use the north as a summer sanctuary and the south as a winter sanctuary. They can be found in most environments from urban gardens to national parks. My students and children take part in this project every spring.
13. WildCam Gorongosa
This project can be found and your group managed through Zooniverse (#6). Scientists and conservationists need help tracking and identifying species in Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. Students scroll through photos taken by wildcams placed in the park. Students identify organisms and their behaviors IN the photos. That's one interesting thing about this citizen science project; students can participate from anywhere in the world, including in a classroom. I understand some educators don't have the flexibility to get out of the building everyday to view wildlife. This is a great option for those in this situation. The "lab" tab in the upper right corner of the homepage is a place for educators to compile class data, which might come from an inquiry investigation for example. Students can also discuss what they see with other volunteers and scientists. It's highly collaborate, and pretty addicting once you start!
14. Nature's Notebook
This website is geared toward educators. Nature's Notebook focuses heavily on phenology monitoring, but what's cool is that you can create your own phenology monitoring program with your students that is relevant to your community. Your students could consider starting a citizen science program as an upper level project-based learning experience.
15. The Wildlab Bird
The Wildlab Bird is another citizen science opportunity offered by Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Students observe birds near their learning spaces and report sightings of GPS-tagged birds to Wildlab. One thing that is unique to this citizen science option is that they promote STEM. They put a strong emphasis on integrating technology, so much so, that they will provide iPhones to your students for this project. They will also visit your school or other learning environment free of cost to help you get started.
16. Celebrate Urban Birds
This project encourages urbanites to observe their surroundings and appreciate wildlife. You don't have to be in the middle of a national park to find wildlife. This is a great project for urban students that don't have easy access to natural areas.
17. Project FeederWatch
I love this project! There are so many learning opportunities built into it. It is not simply a matter of counting birds in your school yard. You could take advantage of design thinking by having your students build their own bird feeders. The shape, structure size, color, and food included will all be dependent on the bird they're hoping to attract and count. In order to find this information students will have to do some research on the natural history of birds in their community. You could split your students up into groups, have each team determine a bird of focus, design a birdfeeder specific to the species of their choice, and then observe and count the birds to report to Project FeederWatch. This would be a great PBL experience.
18. School of Ants
The purpose of this program is for citizens to help create a thorough map of ant species and their ranges across North America. This is a great supplemental activity or could be a PBL project in itself. Students would learn about the natural history of ants in North America, what they eat, their behaviors, distribution, and more while contributing to real science. This website has many resources for educators as well.
19. The Lost Ladybug Project
Another one on insects! The Lost Ladybug Project asks citizens to help them collect ladybugs, photograph them, and submit the images along with some basic information such as location, date, habitat, etc, to their database. This could be a great supplemental activity to a larger discussion or unit on topics like invasive species, habitats, competition, evolution, genetics, and more. Be creative, or let your students get creative by having them conduct student-led scientific open inquiry investigations.
20. The Great Sunflower Project
The Great Sunflower Project emphasizes pollinators, a hugely important topic and one that has been in the spotlight for quite some time, as our pollinators are at risk. There are a few ways to get students involved in this program. One way is to have them grow sunflowers, monitor pollinator visitors, and test the effects of pesticides on the pollinators. Students can also participate in pollinator counts anytime, anywhere, even in the school yard or in their home gardens. As a project-based teacher, I think this final option is the coolest way to get involved; students can learn about important habitats for pollinators by literally creating their own pollinator habitat such as a bee or butterfly garden.
Thanks for visiting! I hope you're able to get your students involved in at least one of these citizen science projects this spring. By introducing them now, they can take over and continue to stay involved on their own throughout the summer and into next year. I'd love to know about anymore citizen science projects not mentioned here that would be worth looking into.
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest, and Instagram for more on experiential education, and check out my TpT store for experiential learning resources. There are a couple free ecology resources available to download.
Photo Credit: Many of the photos above were taken directly from the citizen science websites cited. The quote photo, blog cover, butterfly photo, bird photos, butterfly art piece, and child looking at butterfly catalog were taken by Experiential Learning Depot.
Spring is here, the weather is warming, and students are getting antsy. The school year is wrapping up. Teachers want to end the year with a bang, but we're also exhausted and don't know how much more we have in us! It's testing season, prom season, graduation season, grade report season! Ah! May is bonkers in the world of education.
What better way to go out with a bang AND cruise through the rest of the year than with community action projects (CAPs)? I did a post on this a while ago. Feel free to go back to that post for details. In summary, students choose a local or global issue, design an action plan, and take action. It's a great mix of project-based learning, problem-based learning, and service-learning. Community action projects are interesting, multidisciplinary, and mine are designed to be student-directed, which means there is little to no preparation on your part other than introducing and facilitating the project.
Here's how it works: Students choose an issue that they'd like to get involved in and do some research on the problem. After students have chosen and thoroughly investigated an issue, they brainstorm solutions, design an action plan, and act. Hosting an exhibition night to showcase projects is a nice way to wrap up the experience.
You could allow students to choose any issue of interest or keep it within parameters pertinent to goals or learning objectives for a class. For example, I have done an entire seminar called "community action projects" where that's all we did. I have also incorporated CAPs into specific courses such as a final project for my environmental science class. Students focused on issues pertinent to the environment such as water pollution. Check out this community action project designed specifically to the concept of pollution.
There are a couple important distinctions between this kind of project and any other school project. My community action projects follow the principles of project-based learning, so one of the most important distinctions is that these projects make an impact on the community, preferably long-term. Check out my post on the elements of project-based learning for more details. A student could create an elaborate awareness campaign with beautiful illustrations and a catchy slogan, but if their final product isn't shared or never reaches a relevant audience, then learners aren't reaching their full potential. The project wouldn't make a real impact if not shared with a meaningful audience and the student is robbed of deeper learning, particularly of opportunities to build important 21st-century skills such as networking, communication, collaboration, problem-solving, and citizenship. The purpose of a project like this is not to theorize solutions to hypothetical problems. It's to teach students how to be responsible and active citizens, to have the tools to fight injustices, or simply know how to solve real-world problems.
The following is a list of community action project ideas that could apply to most issues. Students can refer to this list when designing their action plans or you could choose an idea from the list to assign to the class. That would be the more teacher-guided approach vs. student-directed where students design their own projects. You choose!
***I have a community action project toolkit in my store that includes all guiding materials and templates needed for students to carry out projects on issues of their choice.
10 Community Action Project Ideas To Wrap Up the School Year
1. Awareness Campaign:
Students design a campaign that would educate the public on the issue. They could create posters, t-shirts, a video promotion, etc. They can get super creative with this one, and the options are endless, especially with social media and other technologies having come onto the scene.
2) Design and Make a Product:
The idea behind this one is that students design and make something that raises awareness and provides a tangible outcome. The product should be usable or sellable to raise money for the cause. One example would be starting a philanthropic business. The shoe company, TOMS, was founded on this idea. They observed that kids without shoes were developing health problems such as hookworm. TOMS business model then is one-for-one where they give a pair of shoes to someone in need for every pair they sell. Check out this free business plan organizer from my store. Another example would be taking an invasive species, like buckthorn here in MN, and using it as material for a product to sell such as a bracelet or waste basket. This action plan physically removes the problem and brings in money (selling the product at a school function, in boutiques, or on ETsy) to use toward a permanent, long term solution (ex: donating the funds to the DNR.) This is a great option for the makers of the world.
3) Innovative Strategy to Raise Awareness:
Imagine a student is interested in the issue of teen pregnancy. One way to raise awareness would be to create a brochure with some info and stats on the isse and pass it around town. Okay. That is technically raising awareness, but it's not a head turner. There is nothing creative, interesting or shocking about it. Brochures are overdone and overlooked. To truly make an impact, the student's audience needs to be intrigued.
For example, a student of mine did her community action project on teen pregnancy. Rather than a simple brochure, she created a website with information about teen pregnancy. She then assembled HUNDREDS of fortune-tellers (paper origami game). She put information about teen pregnancy on the fortune-tellers as well as a link to her website. Near the website link was instructions for entering a drawing for a prize. She then discretely dropped hundreds of these fortune tellers around the city - on city buses, in community center bathrooms, on the bleachers at school football games, etc. In order for a reader of the fortune teller to get their name in the drawing, they had to go to her website, find the contact page, and send her a note that included three facts that they learned from her website. There are several cool things going on here. One is that the fortune teller screams to be picked up. It would be odd to see a fortune teller sitting next to the soap dispenser in a public restroom.
4. Organize a school club or community organization:
I have had several students start and organize clubs for their community action projects. One group started an environmental science club. Enough with the science examples already! I'm a science teacher, what can I say? They created objectives and goals and organized club events related to their community action projects. They put together a community wide clean-up day where they walked the school neighborhood picking up trash. The club organizers invited speakers to come in and educate students on local environmental issues and give them tips on how they could help. I have a PBL project specific to starting a club, which includes templates helpful for getting one started.
5. Community Volunteer
One way to take action on an issue of importance is to give time to a cause. That often takes the shape of volunteering. Students find an organization relevant to the issue they've chosen for their project and give their time to that organization. Leaving it there would be a typical community service or volunteer experience. A community action project doesn't stop at giving a few hours of their time. Students also need to document their experience and share that experience with an audience that is meaningful or relevant to the issue.
One student was interested in trafficking. She connected with a shelter that took in trafficked survivors to help them get back on their feet. They asked her to organize a food and clothing drive for women in the shelter. In order to collect a substantial amount of food and clothing, this student needed to get the attention of the community. She invited some of the women from the shelter to speak at the school. She opened the event to all students and community members. The women's stories were powerful. More people were willing to donate food and clothing once they were aware of the issue. This wasn't a simple volunteer experience where clock hours logged and signed by a supervisor. This student not only gave her time to cause that she was passionate about, but she was able to raise awareness about the issue a the same time. Deep learning took place here. Volunteering has a been a popular action plan. Other projects have included a student helping dog shelters at adoption events. Another group of students observed elementary teachers needed help, so they connected with a local elementary school to come in and help, which included reading with kids.
6. Host a Fundraiser
Raising money is a great way to take action for a community action project. The outcome makes a direct and tangible impact. Several of my students organized a holiday pie fundraiser at the time when the Syrian refugee crisis was front and center. They not only learned about the Syrian conflict, but also how to organize an effective fundraiser. They had to learn which organizations were reputable and would get the money into the right hands. They learned how to make homemade pies and how to market their fundraiser. They had to figure out how to make a profit, not lose money! They knew pie ingredients could get expensive (particularly apples), so worked with local orchards to work out a reduced price. They created a survey to determine how much money people would pay for homemade pies so they could price them appropriately and effectively. See this free student-directed fundraiser organizer from my store.
7. Write Letters and Meet with Legislators
Advocating for legislation is a really powerful learning experience, not only because students make an impact on their community at the time, but they also develop the skills to continue to do so long after they've graduated. It's important for students to know their rights and how to advocate for themselves and their communities over the course of their lives. I had a student that was frustrated with the lack of job prospects for ex convicts. She wrote letters to her local legislators expressing her interest in the issue and invited them to come to the school to meet with her and talk about possible solutions. One of her legislators called her back, came to the school to meet with her, where they brainstormed solutions at the legislative level. Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs (MAAP) also organizes a statewide legislative day every year where students from all corners of Minnesota come to the state Capitol to discuss the importance of alternative education with their legislators.
8. Artistic Production
This is another way to raise awareness about a local issue. This idea here is that students create some kind of production such as a skit, play, documentary, music concert, etc. that raises awareness in an interesting way. They then bring the production to relevant audiences around the community or host an event. For example, a group of students doing a project on the issue of bike accidents might create a skit that demonstrates bike safety and perform that skit at local elementary schools or community clubs in the area.
This is when students organize a walk or demonstration to raise awareness or put pressure on politicians to act. Our students have participated in the Science March, March for Immigration, and the Women's March. They create original signage for the events. They document the experience via vogging, a documentary, photojournalism, blogging, etc. I have also had students organize walks, which is what the photo on the cover of my Community Action Project resource illustrates. Some students read a book for their book club called "Am I Blue?", which inspired them to organize a walk for gay rights. They recruited participants from the school and community.
10. Host a School Event
This is a fun one but might would take significant effort on your part. I have had students organize screenings of documentaries that are only available to educators. One specific example is the documentary "Sold", which is a movie version of the book "Sold", which I read with students for a women's studies seminar. I have also had students host environmental science fairs, fundraisers (carnivals, cook-offs, car washes, etc.) We have had students host a speaker series from community members relevant to the issue at hand. The list goes on. Let kids get creative!
There are many more options for action plans, but these are the most common with my students. This particular project is really powerful, inspiring, and is a great way to end the year, especially if you host an exhibition or presentation night to show off their final products. Good luck! I would love to hear of student projects and outcomes. Feel free to send me photos or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to feature them on my blog.
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest, and Instagram for more on experiential education, and check out my TpT store for experiential learning resources. I am participating in the sitewide sale 5/7-5/8. The whole store is 25% off.
To provide innovative educational resources for educators, parents, and students, that go beyond lecture and worksheets.
Sara Segar, experiential life-science educator and advisor, curriculum writer, and mother of two.