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  • Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato
    Published 22 March 2019 Referencing Hub media

    Teacher Melissa Coton used an online citizen science project to help her year 5 and 6 students develop the science capability ‘Critique evidence’.

    Participants in the Globe at Night project make observations of their night sky to evaluate the level of light pollution using a scale provided by the project. The project provides clear instructions and collates data from around the world. Melissa focused on the reliability of the data and used an additional data source (satellite images) to extend students’ thinking.

    The unit on light was taught while Melissa was part of a research project funded by the Teaching & Learning Research Initiative. The aim of the project was to explore the benefits of engaging primary students in online citizen science projects.



    The unit we were doing focused on the physical properties of light, so we first did some investigations about light and students developed their understanding of that.

    We then learned about light pollution, which students found really engaging. Developing prior knowledge about light was really important because it helped them understand light pollution at a much deeper level. As we delved deeper into light pollution, we also extended our learning into biology like learning about circadian rhythms and how light and dark affects the natural world and the impacts it has on human health as well.

    Students are really engaged with the context. One reason was we took a lot of opportunities to look at footage of beautiful night skies, completely free of light pollution, and I guess that kind of helped them to realise what they’re missing out on living in a suburban area.

    Because they had to go and collect their own data, they actually realised in their own lives how much light pollution there is in suburbia.

    I chose to use the Globe at Night, which is a citizen science project that asks people to measure the level of light pollution that’s in their local area. There were a couple of reasons I chose to use that. It fit in with the science unit around the physics of light. It also has a really nice element where students get to investigate in their local area but they contribute to a global dataset.

    It had a lot of opportunity to extend what students were learning about. For example, we’ve got a huge development going on in our back field where they’re going to be building 3 or 400 retirement units, and I thought that it was a really nice opportunity for students to hook their classroom learning into something that’s happening in their local neighbourhood and to think about the impact that the light pollution from this development might have on their own lives as well as the natural world.

    It made me focus more on developing science capabilities, specifically looking at critiquing data. We had some fantastic discussions around the benefits of citizen science but also looking at the limitations of a project that relied on using personal judgement rather than scientific tools to make measurements.

    One of the most successful activities we did that supported students to develop their science capabilities was asking them to compare the Globe at Night data with the data that was gathered from satellite imagery, and that was really helpful for them to be able to have a look at that – the data points were gathered and specific geographical areas compared to satellite data that was global and was based on a calibrated scale.

    Something that was really successful and really helped to enhance engagement was inviting a local scientist in to talk to us. This gentleman has been involved in establishing a dark sky initiative in the Wairarapa, and that was really successful in getting kids to transfer the learning that they’ve done through the Globe at Night project, to ask really great questions and have real-time interaction with a scientist. So that was really important with supporting the learning that we did.

    The biggest challenge was the weather. The Globe at Night relies on the person being able to go out and observing a constellation within a specific timeframe, and unfortunately within our timeframe, it was overcast for every single evening within the 3-week period.

    It was difficult to maintain momentum and to keep student interest up. Round that was getting up myself in the middle of the night to take some photos, so we had some data to talk about. Maybe choosing to do that in the middle of winter wasn’t the best project to choose.

    Melissa Coton and her students from Boulcott School
    Victoria University of Wellington
    The Teaching & Learning Research Initiative
    Globe at Night. National Optical Astronomy Observatory; AURA; and the National Science Foundation
    Milky Way above Church of the Good Shepherd at Tekapo, Keng Po Leung, licensed through 123RF Ltd
    Night sky above Lion Rock at Piha, cloud9works, licensed through 123RF Ltd
    Wellington city at night image, Leonau, licensed through 123RF Ltd
    Light pollution satellite data map courtesy of Jurij Stare,
    Martinborough Dark Sky Society
    Wairarapa night sky timelapse courtesy of Mark Gee, The Art of the Night
    Night sky above Wellington with moon and Jupiter, courtesy of Lance Andrewes, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
    Cloudy night sky with full moon, Péter Gudella, licensed through 123RF Ltd
    Cloudy Oriental Parade, Wellington, Dmitry Pichugin, licensed through 123RF Ltd
    Light basics and circadian rhythm resources, Science Learning Hub – Pokapū Akoranga Pūtaiao

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