Locally-Based Citizen Science Connects Families to Place-Based Learning and Scientific Discovery
Citizen science projects have been around for quite a while, and have certainly picked up steam thanks to the accessibility offered by technology-based platforms. Now, thanks to the Pioneer Valley Citizen Science Collaboratory, families in western Massachusetts can engage in citizen science projects conducted specifically to research and protect the local landscape.
Created in order to address environmental issues in the Pioneer Valley, the Pioneer Valley Citizen Science Collaboratory brings together projects and resources from a host of local organizations and educational institutions. Through this collaboration (a literal collaboration of laboratories), the collaboratory is able to offer a collection of exciting, engaging, accessible, and scientifically significant projects to the community. Covering topics relevant to the study of biodiversity, climate change, invasive species, and habitat loss, the collaboratory’s projects seek to gather useful data that speak to the changes that take place in the local landscape.
Encompassing projects that can be conducted throughout most of the four seasons (mid- to late-winter is a bit bare, for obvious reasons), the collaboratory’s citizen science offerings cover everything from spring’s leaf out to the glow of fireflies. Families can engage in locally-based citizen science projects such as Salamander Watch and Bud Burst, programs that monitor salamander migration and egg counts and track the leaf-out dates across the region, respectively.
Summer opportunities for locally-based citizen science include Neighborhood Nestwatch, which examines the impact of urban sprawl on songbird populations and is modeled after a Smithsonian project; and Firefly Watch, which supports the Boston Museum of Science in studying the geographic distribution of fireflies and the effects that man-made light and pesticides have on these glowing creatures. During the fall, local families can participate in Monarch Butterfly Watch, which tracks monarch populations just before their migration to Mexico. A second fall project, called Leaf Drop, asks participants to engage in a multi-week study of the changes in leaf color taking place in the local landscape. In doing so, participants are able to learn about the science behind the end of the local growing season.
These projects offer lots of meaningful opportunities for place-based, experiential learning within the local landscape, and are unique in the world of citizen science in that they allow participants to be a part of something that is directly connected to their own surroundings. Anyone can be a citizen scientist, and through the Pioneer Valley Citizen Science Collaboratory, local families can be active participants in the study of the place that they call home.