Review by Christie Thomas, Common Sense Education | Updated February 2015

SciStarter

Good choices abound in sprawling citizen science project database

Subjects & skills
Skills
N/A

Subjects
  • Science
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
1-12
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (1 Review)

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Pros: The site has an impressive list of citizen science projects, and a (very) few come connected to NGSS practices and CCSS.

Cons: There’s a big need for curated lists, improved search options, and at-a-glance information that will help educators make decisions quickly.

Bottom Line: A good database of valuable projects, but better search features would make a big difference.

Teachers may want to start with the small red “our picks for classrooms” link from the homepage. This section of the site provides a brief (and helpful) background to citizen science newbies, and it also features a handful of selections for elementary, middle, and high school students. Realize, though, that the site doesn’t describe its selection criteria, and some of the projects (Bumble Bee Watch) actually note that they are not kid-appropriate!

Use keywords for the most productive searching. Making observations of local plants and animals, as well collecting weather data, are great choices for elementary and MS. Student data merges with larger pools, aiding in pattern identification. High school teachers will be able to find many mid-level and advanced projects -– especially in digital analyses and cellular research. Bear in mind that the site hosts topics for all ages, so select projects for kids or have them clear their choices with you.

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SciStarter is a database of citizen science projects, some of which may work with kids and in classrooms. Accounts don’t provide features (like favorites), but they aren’t needed to view project details (though having one makes for fewer clicks). From the homepage, users will see rotating “projects of the day,” as well as the “project finder,” which provides choices by activity (on a hike) or topic (birds). Advanced and keyword searches are also available.

Results are provided in one long list, with brief project descriptions and pictures. Clicking on an option takes users to a project page with a short synopsis and specifics like cost, location, and required gear. Note that project sponsors, not the SciStarter site, input all project details, and that some activity dates have passed. Links take the user to the project website for more information and opportunities to join in.

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Citizen science projects are an authentic avenue for kids of all ages to truly engage in scientific practices. For a few (5) of the myriad projects posted on this site, a detailed write-up of classroom applications (including online safety) and correlations with NGSS and CCSS has been created. This information supports teachers trying to determine which projects will work with their students, and it definitely enhances the learning opportunities.

With its significant database, SciStarter is poised to boost classroom use of citizen science projects. It can fulfill this task by creating curated lists, expanding educational connections, and renovating to an at-a-glance design. Teachers will then be able to find more of their classroom questions answered before going on to a project’s site.

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Observe weather, hunt bugs, play games -- these intriguing citizen science projects span topics, types, and ages. Site design could be improved with more at-a-glance project info and more functional search options or curated lists.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Projects support student learning, but just five include teaching info, so making connections is largely left up to teachers. The "teaching materials available" search query is non-responsive.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

The project finder may disappoint users (especially teachers) hoping for more specificity. Others will wonder about activity choices (at sports stadiums?). Further, the organization and relevance of results is unclear.


Common Sense Reviewer
Christie Thomas Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
Barbara H. ,
Take your Labs to the Next Level with Participation in a Citizen Science Project!

The SciStarter website is a good place to search for Citizen Science projects. I like how you can search by activity, subject, grade level and location. I also like the recommended picks for the classroom. This tab should be made more visible because currently it is very small and may be overlooked. The website could serve kids and teachers better if the projects were organized by date. On the website it is unclear if all the projects are still active or if there are deadlines to sign up to participate. Some of the projects are very detailed like NASA's SMAP project and give a clear description of materials needed and costs but others lack enough description for teachers to see if participating in these projects would be a feasible option economically. There is a filter in the search engine to search for free or low cost projects only which is helpful. Some advanced planning is required to participate in these projects so start looking early!

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