Review by Emily Pohlonski, Common Sense Education | Updated March 2016

Zooniverse

Real research powered by volunteers makes classroom content relevant

Subjects & skills
Skills
  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking

Subjects
  • Science
  • Social Studies
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
2-12
Common Sense says (See details)
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Pros: Students make a difference by contributing to actual investigations.

Cons: Research tasks usually involve more classifying than higher-order thinking.

Bottom Line: Engage in meaningful, relevant research with citizen scientists from around the world.

Teachers can best use Zooniverse to help make student learning relevant to what scientists are actually doing in the field. When kids ask why they must know the structure of a cell, have them spend some time comparing cell structures to find cancer cells. Tutorials like those offered in Galaxy Zoo can help kids learn about classification if that is a part of your curriculum. Teachers who have incorporated personalized learning into their classroom, such as Genius Hour, could offer Zooniverse as a resource to get kids started. 

A separate ZooTeach site is available with project guides and sample lessons created by teachers who use Zooniverse. Find the teacher resources by selecting About and then the Education menu. The Zooniverse Blog and the Zooniverse Education Talk board both provide ways for teachers to share and discuss citizen research in their classrooms.

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Zooniverse is an online platform that allows volunteers from around the world to contribute data to research. Students choose research projects that range from transcribing documents from Shakespeare's era to cataloging galaxies through Galaxy Zoo. Tutorials show kids how to participate in each project. If they are not sure exactly how to analyze a certain artifact or image, then they can engage in discourse with other volunteer researchers in chat rooms. Tons of data is compiled and used by researchers to form actual conclusions. The ZooTeach companion site provides lessons and other materials from teachers who use the site.

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Zooniverse empowers students by letting them contribute to major research. They can search for cancer cells on slide images to help Cancer Research UK find a cure. Students can also identify various species of plankton to help scientists determine marine health. By working with citizen scientists from around the world, kids see that science is a social field and that we work together to learn about our world. Zooniverse also lets students see that research can happen in all disciplines. In Operation War Diary, kids are citizen historians and analyze diary entries from World War I. Engaging in historical research will help students see that history is so much more than just memorizing dates and locations.

Unfortunately, the tasks that students participate in may not actually require deep thinking. Transcription from documents in Shakespeare's era will provide unrecorded spellings to improve the Oxford English Dictionary. But the students will only be typing handwritten text that they see on a screen. When kids identify individual whales by looking at their tails, they aren't actually learning about inquiry or animal behavior. Someone else has asked the question, has designed the investigation, and will be forming the final conclusions.

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Overall Rating

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

Zooniverse is easy for students to use, and they get excited to be part of a real investigation. After a while kids may find the tasks tedious.

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

As the data accumulates, students can access it to form their own conclusions. Kids can use the site to engage in meaningful investigations that make their required science or social studies content more relevant.

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

Tutorials walk volunteer scientists through the precise protocols to provide data consistent with others from around the globe. Chat rooms allow students to discuss the image they are analyzing with other citizen scientists.


Common Sense Reviewer
Emily Pohlonski Classroom teacher

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