Use real world items to better understand and analyze a problem.
© Project MASH
Everyday we are bombarded with statistics on the television, in the newspaper, and even in schools and classrooms. They can begin to feel like, well… just numbers. But where do these numbers come from and what do they really mean? In this activity you’ll investigate an issue in your school or community, then collect physical evidence related to that issue. Think about trash littering your school grounds, bugs in your local stream or even the words in your school’s student manual. Once you’ve gotten out into your community to collect your evidence, you’ll figure out how to make sense of it, sort it out, and run the numbers. Finally, you'll find a way to visualize this information in a meaningful and intriguing way that helps your community get beyond the numbers and want to get involved.
- Dress for the job– You may stay inside your school, or you may go outside to collect this evidence. If you’re collecting trash dress down; if you’re talking with important community members dress up. Consider who and where before you decide what to wear!
- A place to collect data. It could be a notebook, a trash bag, or a camera. Use whatever works best for your materials.
- Choose an issue. Before starting you should have identified a local problem you'd like to investigate. It should be something you care about, something that exists in your school, community or home. . Need some inspiration? Here are some examples to get you started:
- Collect trash around the school, then use the trash as physical evidence of a problem (anything ranging from littering, too many plastics, or kids eating too much junk food.) Sort it into categories and analyze what is littered the most.
- What’s outside your window? Look at your very local environment, what might you collect that would provide more information? Consider the insects, plants, trees as well as the man made objects.
- Brainstorm. Do you already know why the problem is happening or are you trying to figure it out? What kind of physical evidence might you collect as evidence? (trash as example of poor recycling habits, pantry items as an example of sugar consumption) Consider things you can physically pick up as well as just observe, take note of, or even photograph. Once you have your brainstorming ideas down, share them with a peer or adult mentor, get feedback before moving on to the next step.
- Hit the streets (or wherever your data exists). Bring a friend or work in a small group so you can take on different roles. Who is the photographer? Who is taking notes? Is someone holding a bag while someone else puts things into it?
- Put it together. Take a look at your evidence, what have you collected? Do you see any patterns or groupings you can start to put this evidence in? Sort everything into groups and start to add up the numbers.
- Conclusions. What can you learn from this data? What does the data mean? What data points stand out as important? Does this data provide an answer or open up more questions about this issue? Have a peer or mentor review your results and give you feedback. Consider how they might see your results from a different perspective.
- Share. Decide on a way to visually share your data along with your conclusions. Consider making a video, sharing photographs or creating an interesting infographic that you can share. Is there a place in the school or community you can post these publicly? Find an audience!
- Want to take action? Consider putting this data into action through the activity Convince Me.
- (OPTIONAL.) Get the facts! - Has an expert already related to your issue? How do your results compare?
Science & Engineering Practices:
- Asking questions and defining problems
- Planning and carrying out investigations
- Analyzing and interpreting data
- Using mathematics and computational thinking
- Constructing explanations and designing solutions
- Obtaining, evaluating and communicating information
The above activity is licensed under the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA) license type by Creative Commons which allows you to remix, tweak, and build upon this work non-commercially as long as you credit the California Academy of Sciences and license any new creations under the identical terms.
Check out our Citizen Science Toolkit, designed to help educators integrate citizen science projects into classroom curricula or afterschool programming.
It contains resources—including lessons, readings, and worksheets—to help communicate the value of citizen science to students and cultivate their sense of empowerment and impact when performing science investigations.