Teacher Carol Brieseman incorporated the online citizen science (OCS) project Identify New Zealand Animals as part of a year 5/6 unit on ecosystems and conservation, particularly of native birds. Here, she reflects on what she and her students learned.
Note: Although the OCS project is now a completed project, other similar projects are available – see our citizen science landing page.
Inspiration for the unit
We had been learning about ecosystems and had become involved with Pest Free Tawa. We had already placed tracking tunnels around our school and were able to identify rats and mice from their footprints. From here, we were going to put traps down to catch these pests. The OCS project I chose was called Identify New Zealand Animals. This project was about helping biologists identify animals in photographs taken by infrared cameras. It was particularly suitable as it was a local Wellington project led by a PhD student, Victor Anton, at Victoria University. It was a nice fit with our ecosystem learning and rat trapping – linking in to real-world science research happening locally.
Intended learning outcomes
The unit focused on developing students’ understanding of ecosystems, habitats and the impact of pests on our native bird species. The concepts of sustainability and kaitiakitanga meant we were able to take action throughout the unit, both through tracking and trapping and through contributing to the OCS to identify, quantify and locate pests in Wellington.
"It removed the classroom walls. There was a lot of talk going on in the classroom, a lot of buzz.”Carol Brieseman
The OCS project allowed me to remove the walls of the classroom and let the students participate and act like scientists while doing ‘real’ science. It was a rich way to develop the students’ science capabilities. Using this OCS project brought together all the science capabilities, allowing the students to show to what extent they were ready, willing and able to engage with science.
Science is a subject that I just can’t help being passionate about. That passion is something that can be contagious with the kids I work with – and colleagues too!
I love tapping into kids’ curiosity about the world around them. There is an untainted awe about the world that kids display, and I love being able to nurture this and give them opportunity to explore. My classroom is a ‘buzzing’ environment where kids bring all sorts of bugs and interesting things along to the classroom so we can look at them under a magnifying glass.
I enjoy integrating science with other curriculum areas – especially in helping kids experience success in literacy through scientific investigations.
I believe all kids need to have an understanding of science – of how it is all around us and why things do what they do. They need to be able to make informed decisions based on their own investigations and research. I love being able to provide opportunities for them to do so!
The class of 29 year 5–6 students were used to having science integrated into their school life. They were a mixed bunch with some very diverse learners, including very able and enthusiastic students, some EAL students (learning English as an additional language), some students with anxiety and a couple of special needs students.
- Students completed a range of activities to develop their understanding of ecosystems, habitats and interdependence.
- Using our own school and environs, we learned about pests, pest identification and pest trapping.
- As part of engaging with the OCS project, which was only a small part of the wider unit, it was terrific to have ‘the scientist’ available to visit us. There was a useful tutorial in the project that we would have used otherwise.
- Victor (the scientist) explained his project and how citizens can help and modelled this for the students.
- The students were able to share their concerns about what making a mistake in identification might do to his results and learn about methods used to ensure reliability and rigour. This supported students to develop the science capability Gather and interpret data.
- Students worked in thoughtfully constructed groups of 2–3 per Chromebook.
- The students worked with integrity, discussing each analysis, and were concerned they were identifying the photos correctly. The progress bar within the project enabled them to see how many more identifications needed to be made to finish Victor’s work. They became very driven to complete this entire dataset project for Victor.
- This enthusiasm flowed out of the classroom into the school surroundings where they were able to continue to be involved in taking action using pest traps to control pest numbers.
What worked well
One of the main successes was the opportunity to engage in real science. This proved to be hugely motivating and to sustain ongoing learning for my wide range of diverse learners. I had not expected my more able students to be as engaged as my EAL students and my special needs students. The whole class were empowered by being involved in real science.
The enthusiasm for this project extended beyond school and the school day. Some students worked on it at home, and siblings got involved. Some students even made a bit of a competition out of it and compared how many observations they made.
Being able to meet the scientist definitely lifted the learning to a higher level. Not only were the students able to learn from him directly about his method and also about scale, reliability and rigour, they developed a relationship with him. They shared a purpose and became very motivated to finish all the analysis to enable Victor to continue his work. It was an authentic opportunity to let the students discover and think about the way scientists work.
Maintaining enthusiasm for the online task over a period of time became a bit of a struggle. Some got tired or felt bored identifying animals in photos after a few sessions. This was another learning opportunity though – science can be repetitive at times and often requires persistence.
I used my professional judgement to decide when enough was enough as the last thing I wanted to do is put them off science or have them think that science is boring! The OCS component was just one part of a larger unit so we had other things to continue on with.
There are always likely to be problems with groups that struggle to work together. We discussed sharing and turn taking before starting using the OSC project, and I also made conscious decisions about the groupings and provided a checklist for each group. Although the successes outweighed the challenges, some groups did struggle.
The use of this particular project gave the students additional opportunity to show that they were ready, willing and able to contribute to a real-life context by applying their classroom learning. In this way, they were developing the science capability Engage with science.
The students were learning to … use integrity to make sure they were doing the right thing, that they weren’t tainting the dataset.Carol Brieseman
Using an OCS project was also an authentic way for the students to learn more about science and the ways in which scientists work. The focus shifted to them clearly being the citizen scientists – discussing and making careful decisions about analysing the images, using their understanding of scale and showing integrity in their decision making.
Many were able to share and discuss why it is important that scientists’ work is reliable and to appreciate the repetitive nature of interpreting data. They could see that their skills of closely observing and making decisions based on evidence had grown.
Nature of science
Being part of a citizen science project and acknowledging students’ contribution as part of a bigger research process is a great way of building students’ competence in participating and contributing and individuals’ confidence in learning.
This work was carried out as part of the research project Citizen Scientists in the Classroom.
As in the other teacher stories, the OCS was only one part of a much larger unit. At the same time as using Identify New Zealand Animals, the students were involved in designing, setting out and using their own tracking tunnels to identify and quantify pests around the school.
A feature of the success of the classroom use of this particular OCS project was the class meeting the scientist behind the project. He was able to explain how and why the photos had been taken and how they should be analysed and to answer students’ questions. They developed a bond with him and shared his passion for this work.
He helped facilitate some of the rich learning taken on by the students around scale. By showing the students how life-size animals compared to the images they were seeing on screen, they were able to do some valuable learning.
It was noticeable that, because of their bond with the scientist, the students felt driven to do good-quality scientific work for him. This motivation plus the way the OCS project was designed to ask citizens about how sure they were of their classification fostered rich discussions about what methods were used by the scientist to ensure reliability and rigour.
By embedding the OCS project into this unit, the teacher provided an authentic opportunity to let the students discover and think about the way science and scientists work. The students were able to see and experience ideas about scale, reliability and rigour and the need to think critically about method and evidence.
Carol was awarded the 2018 Prime Minister’s Science Teacher Prize in recognition of her exemplary practice.
See the article Invasive animals in cities for additional information on this project and the outcomes.
Read about students taking action for bird conservation in the Connected article Bringing back the birdsong.
Use Carol’s unit plan as inspiration for planning your own teaching and learning programme.
Can we make New Zealand pest-free? is a series of lesson plans that involve students in the quest to conserve our native species.
In the activity Making a tracking tunnel, students monitor the presence of pest species in a neighbouring gully or their school grounds.
Careful observation is an important part of science, as outlined in the activity Observation: learning to see.
- iNaturalist NZ lets you record what you see in nature.
- Marine Metre Squared is an easy way for anyone to survey the plants and animals living on their local seashore.
In our Online citizen science webinar, Carol Brieseman shares her experiences using online citizen science projects in the classroom.
In this recorded webinar from NZ Predator Free, listen to Al Glen from Manaaki Whenua discussing using cameras and how they ‘trained’ computer models to improve accuracy – using artificial intelligence (AI). He also covers other emerging developments, such as thermal cameras and ‘smart traps’.
In May 2022, the report Artificial intelligence for the environment in Aotearoa New Zealand was published.
Visit the Department of Conservation website animal pests section.
For more information about identifying tracks of different pest species, visit the Bionet website.
Use the Pest Detective online guide to help identify the signs left by pest animals.
In this Eco Memory game, learn how animals are tracked and which tracks belong to each animal, then play the online memory game to match each animal with their correct footprints.
Check out the large collection of citizen science resources that we have curated in this Pinterest board.
Find out more about Pest Free Tawa.
Visit the completed online OCS project Identify New Zealand Animals on Zooniverse.
Carol was a teacher researcher in the education research project Citizen Scientists in the Classroom funded through the Ministry of Education’s Teaching & Learning Research Initiative. Read about some of the research outcomes in Using the Web for Science in the Classroom: Online Citizen Science Participation in Teaching and Learning.