Great citizen science holiday projects for the kids – Science News


Helping out with a research project is a great antidote to the excesses of the season.

Many citizen scientists find it to be an incredibly rewarding and interesting experience, in which they learn a lot and feel like they are making a difference.

The ABC has been championing citizen science since 2013, with an annual citizen science project each Science Week in August.

There are many great projects on offer.

Here we’ve handpicked a selection of new projects that can be done by pretty much anyone in Australia, including primary-aged kids.

Mission: Save the Earth’s biodiversity, and get the kids outside

Summer holidays are the perfect time for adults and children to war over technology use. But here’s a solution that involves an app and gets you outside — and it also helps catalogue the Earth’s biodiversity.

QuestaGame is presented as an outdoor game where players take photos of animals, plants and fungi, and submit them to be identified. Each time you submit a sighting you score points, with rarer sightings scoring higher points.

“You’ve got that mission to save life on Earth, but you’re also being motivated by a sense of adventure, and having fun, because it’s presented as a game,” said David Haynes, co-founder of QuestaGame.

QuestaGame — which recently won the 2018 Eureka Award for Innovation in Citizen Science — uses the same mission-based technique that inspires kids (and adults) to learn about alternate worlds and realities in computer games. However, in QuestaGame they’re learning about nature.

Anyone can also jump in and suggest an identification for the submitted sightings.

All the identifications — by experts and novices alike — are weighted based on experience and expertise, and eventually a scientific name is verified.

At this point the people who submitted an ID can check whether they were right.

“If they got it wrong they might actually learn something,” Mr Haynes said.

Around 30,000 players have already submitted almost 400,000 sightings to QuestaGame, with more than 1 million identifications so far. The data goes into open biodiversity databases and has already been cited in 20 scientific publications.

QuestaGame is especially great for families and kids, but also for anyone who is interested in learning more about nature and having some fun at the same time.

Scuba divers, snorkellers and wannabe marine biologists needed!

Have you got any underwater images of the Great Barrier Reef?

In the second phase of Virtual Reef Diver (the ABC’s citizen science project in 2018) you’re invited to upload these images. It’s the part that the scientists are particularly excited about:

“An army of reef operators, citizen scientists and tourists are out on the reef every day and it is physically and financially impossible for a single monitoring program to replicate that effort,” said Erin Peterson, who leads the project.

“Many of those people are already taking underwater images and so we are asking them to capture data in the form of images and upload them to the Virtual Reef Diver website.

“This will provide up-to-date information and the condition of the reef in those locations so that changes can be rapidly identified and tracked,” Dr Peterson said.

And for those of us leading less glamorous lives out of water, you can still play a role as a citizen scientist by analysing the uploaded photos at Virtual Reef Diver for coral cover. This has happened with more than 200,000 images already.

The information gleaned from the images will be fed into a computer model that will allow scientists and managers to better predict and understand what’s going on within the huge and varied expanse of the Great Barrier Reef.

Out-of-this-world colouring in to help understand our universe

Who doesn’t get a kick out of seeing a photo of a galaxy that is older than planet Earth?

Building on the ABC’s successful Galaxy Explorer project in 2015, AstroQuest is seeking your help with looking at images of galaxies, some of them up to 8 billion years old (and remember, the universe is 13.8 billion years old and Earth is 4.5 billion years old).

The astronomers are asking for citizen scientists to engage in a colouring-in job. It’s digital art therapy, with the added benefit of helping some real research. It’s an especially great project for kids and families.

You just need to look at the galaxy photo and work out where the galaxy is … and colour it in. If there are two or more galaxies, you colour each galaxy with a different colour.

Weirdly, it’s a job that computers can’t always do well.

“When computers are really bad at this, they’re really, really bad” said Lisa Evans at The International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR).

“There’s a certain proportion that the computer can get right, but then there’s the really cool galaxies that are two galaxies crashing together, and the computer gets it wrong and says it’s one.”

Having the area of the galaxy coloured in allows astronomers to compute a whole lot of information.

AstroQuest is being launched in a beta version and the astronomers are also keen to have your feedback on the functionality of the site.

If severe weather rains on your holiday, don’t only share it on social media

If you’re unlucky enough to be hit by hail, floods, strong winds or tornadoes this summer you can now let scientists — and the Bureau of Meteorology — know via WeatheX, a free smartphone app.

They’re especially keen to hear about severe weather events in rural and regional areas.

“There’s a lot of gaps in the observational network, between weather stations and between radars, ” said Dr Joshua Soderholm, a research fellow in severe weather at Monash University.

“Also traditional instrumentation doesn’t measure the size of hail or how badly buildings and trees were damaged by wind gusts. And tornadoes are notoriously difficult to sample.”

WeatheX is a technologically updated version of the Storm Spotters Network, which has been the BOM’s public reporting program.

Any observations of hail, flood, strong winds or tornadoes made via WeatheX will be verified and used by scientists at the Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, who study severe weather events.

The BOM have just started using the observations submitted by citizen scientists for verifying their own forecasts.

The app can be used by anyone in Australia, including school-aged children. Since its launch in October it’s already had 4,000 downloads, and provided reporting on the Sydney hailstorm on December 20, the Melbourne hailstorm on November 7, and the Brisbane storms on October 21.

Who doesn’t love fairy-wrens? Scientists want to know when you see one

Fairy-wrens can be found all across Australia — these small birds are currently breeding and raising their young. And scientists involved in the Fairywren Project are keen to know if you’ve seen any.

“We picked the perfect bird to study because everybody loves fairy-wrens,” said project co-founder Joseph Welklin, a PhD student at Cornell University.

“They’re so much fun to watch.”

Fairy-wrens aren’t just completely adorable. They also have some unusual social behaviour — they’re cooperative breeders. This means that their offspring from one season will sometimes stay around and help them raise the next generation of chicks.

This sort of behaviour is rare in the bird world, Mr Welklin said.

If you spot fairy-wrens, Mr Welklin and fellow co-founder Dr Allison Johnston want to know how many birds are in the group you see, and their colours.

They’re particularly interested in the brightly coloured plumage of the breeding male, and whether offspring stick around with the family group.

The researchers will correlate this information with rainfall history to see if there is a relationship between environmental factors and behaviour.

“You might expect that in harsher environments there is more cooperation between parents and their offspring to raise offspring,” Mr Welklin said.

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