Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Read Wild: Sarah Mulhern Gross Introduces Us to the Concept of Citizen Science

As warmer weather spreads across the country, I have been thinking about ways to get my students outside during their summer vacation. We are doing a joint biology/English field study this week as part of my literature and the land unit, but I know that most of my students spend little to no time outside if they aren’t forced to do so.  One possible solution to this problem is to get students involved in citizen science projects (Jenkins, 2011). Citizen science projects engage non-scientists in scientific endeavors to address questions raised by researchers (Cooper, Dickinson, Phillips, & Bonney 2007). Research has shown that young people who participate in citizen science projects are more connected to the environment and more scientifically literate (Edwards, 2014).  While there is a lack of research on the effects of citizen science on adolescents, due to its recent emergence in science classrooms, one can hope that it will have the same positive effects. If students are not spending time outdoors perhaps a citizen science project will motivate them to do so.  

There are hundreds of citizen science projects out there that teens and adults can become involved in.  Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard by Loree Griffin Burns is a fantastic introduction to projects like the Audubon Bird Count and FrogWatch USA. My personal favorite is tagging monarch butterflies!  Once you are ready to dive into citizen science I recommend checking out Scistarter for links to projects looking for citizen scientists.  

Here are a few citizen science/book pairings that could inspire you and your teens to get involved and maybe even spend some time outside:

A 52-Hertz Whale by Bill Sommer and Natalie Haney Tilghman and Orcasound: In Sommer and Tilghman’s book, the main character is tracking a whale as part of a citizen science project.  Interested in doing something similar? Orcasound allows interested citizen scientists to listen to live hydrophones in the Pacific Northwest and log any whale sounds heard.  The project aims to help preserve the population of orcas in the area where the underwater microphones are deployed. 

Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin and Battling Birds and/or Feederwatch: Garnet Richardson, a budding ornithologist, is sent to a lake resort to avoid a 1926 polio outbreak. Interested readers can learn more about ornithology by participating in any of Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology citizen science projects. Battling Birds and Feederwatch are my favorites.  Battling Birds allows viewers to watch Cornell’s birdfeeder cams and contribute questions and observations. Feederwatch is a  winter project (November-April) that asks interested citizen scientists to set up bird feeders and periodically count the birds they see. 

Trickster edited by Matt Dembicki and Canid Camera : Trickster is a graphic collection that brings together 21 Native American storytellers and twenty-one comic artists. Each story focuses on a different trickster character including coyotes, ravens, rabbits, raccoons, dogs, wolves, and beavers. When I read the book I was immediately drawn to the wide variety of species represented in different native cultures.  It made me think of the Canid Camera project in NY state.  The project was the focus of a recent article in The New York Times, which is how I learned about it, and is currently seeking volunteers.  Volunteers can sort through trail camera photos and ID the species seen.  A field guide is provided and for students who live in the northeastern part of the US it may help them learn more about the animals in their own area!

Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby and SKYWARN: In Hurricane Season, Fig’s life becomes infinitely more stressful when hurricane season hits the Jersey Shore.  She and her father already dealt with one storm, but she knows that the weather can make her dad act irrationally. She spends a lot of time watching the weather and weather reports.  Weather aficionados ages 16+ can become trained SKYWARN Weather Spotters in the U.S. thanks to NOAA. Check out their website for info on free training classes.  This is a great citizen science opportunity for high school students!

These are just a few citizen science projects that are out there.  Read a book that deals with citizen science or inspires citizen science action to block out one of the #readwild bingo squares for our challenge.  Share your favorite citizen science projects and books that might inspire action in the comments!

Cooper, C. B., Dickinson, J., Phillips, T., & Bonney, R. (2007). Citizen Science as a Tool for Conservation in Residential Ecosystems. Ecology & Society, 12(2), 1-11.

Edwards, R. (2014). Citizen science and lifelong learning. Studies In The Education Of Adults, 46(2), 132-144.

Jenkins, L. l. (2011). Using citizen science beyond teaching science content: a strategy for making science relevant to students’ lives. Cultural Studies Of Science Education, 6(2), 501-508.

Read Wild: Hosting a Bob Ross Like Painting Party

Edited to Add: Please note the comment at the end of the post about Bob Ross, trademark and how to officially host a Bob Ross themed party. If you don’t want to pursue an official Bob Ross party, you’ll have to leave his name and likeness out of the picture due to copyright and trademark rights.

Bob Ross is having quite the renaissance in popularity, especially among teens, in part because of Netflix. If you didn’t know, you can watch Bob Ross paint a lot of happy trees on Netflix and many teens find it to be a great way to relieve stress and anxiety. It’s also fun to host a Bob Ross like painting party.

Today’s program is being brought to you by Karen . . . and the Girl Scouts. Thing 2 is a Girl Scout and they also do a lot of programming that would work well in a public or school library setting, especially if you are already doing programming and have a good space for it. I’m putting this under our Read Wild heading because Bob Ross was famous for painting a variety of landscapes, including forest, trees, sunsets, and seaside retreats. If you have the outdoor space available, I recommend taking the painting outside so teens are painting nature while being in nature and breathing in some fresh air. This is a fun and creative way to get teens thinking about and connecting with nature.

Supplies Needed:

  • A painting surface, like a tile mentioned by Cindy earlier today or a canvas
  • A variety of paints (Bob Ross uses oil paints, but you can use acrylics)
  • Paint brushes
  • Paper plates (this will be your palette)
  • Paper towels
  • Water and something to keep it in for cleaning brushes
  • If you need to protect your painting surfaces, you’ll want to get newspaper or tablecloths

Before you start painting, you may want to prime your canvas by giving it a layer of white paint. If you want to speed up the process, you can prep canvases the day before your painting party. If you are using tiles, you don’t need to do any prep work.

Set up is pretty easy, just distribute brushes, paints, paper plates and water containers to each participant. If you are inside and have public performance rights, you can play Bob Ross in the background. The big thing here is to just let teens paint nature scenes and step back and let them be creative and expressive.

You’ll want to give a brief introduction to teens about Bob Ross. If you want to go with video there are several choices on YouTube or you can just read a brief introduction via someplace like Wikipedia (I know, I’m sorry, but it’s a quick resource). You could also print off examples of his work to have around the room or put together a slideshow which you project onto a blank wall or share via your in-house screens.

There are several online write ups of Bob Ross painting parties. It turns out, it’s a pretty popular party theme. You can find a few good ones here, here and here. Bonus points if you find and wear a Bob Ross wig.

When we went to the Girl Scout party, The Teen was just there by default. However, she had such a good time that she went home and painted a few more canvases. It was an obvious hit and I highly recommend it.

Read Wild: Nature Deficit Disorder and its implications for teens

Today is Earth Day and we’re kicking it off here at TLT by introducing you to Sarah Mulhern Gross and her new regular feature, #ReadWild. We’re going to be having an ongoing discussion about connecting teens with nature, discussing issues like climate change, and sharing titles that help you do both. In this post, we’re also introducing you to our #ReadWild Reading Challenge and giving you some background information on Nature Deficit Disorder.

American students are stressed. Since 2013, teens have reported feeling more stress than adults, according to the American Psychological Association. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 3.1 million American teenagers (between 12 -17) had at least one major depressive episode in the last year. Constant access to technology, with its notifications and messages, often brings more stress.  A 2013 study conducted by Karla Klein Murdock of Washington and Lee University found that text messages and social media messaging left college students vulnerable to interpersonal stress, leading to sleep problems and lower levels of emotional well-being.  Yet our schools have added computers in every class, adopted “bring your own device” policies, and cut gym classes and recess in favor of trying to raise test scores. Most of my high school students tell me they spend little to no time outside on a daily basis.

Nature-deficit disorder is a term used to describe the loss that children and teens experience when they are not given opportunities to have direct contact with nature.  Journalist and author Richard Louv coined the term when researchers began to realize the impact that nature had on children’s health and ability to learn.  Students who do not spend time outdoors engaging in exploration and play often feel disconnected from nature and environmental issues as adults. Without that connection to nature there may be no conservationists in the future.

Being outside has important benefits for kids and teens.  According to the Children & Nature Network, increased time outside has public health benefits.  Time outside has been found to improve children’s sleep, boost performance in school and enhance creativity, and increase focus and engagement.   And the effects of nature are long-term: childhood nature exposure can help predict adult mental well-being.  When my own students spend time outside during field studies or on nature walks they report feeling less stressed.  Florence Williams’ book The Nature Fix highlights the fact that as few as 15 minutes in the woods has been shown to reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. When nature exposure is increased to 45 minutes there is an increase in cognitive ability.

Research shows that formative experiences in nature during childhood and adolescence are the most important source of environmental appreciation later in life; adults who are active in conservation often cite childhood experiences with the natural world as one of their most critical inspirations. Yet our schools are designed in a manner that denies students the opportunity to observe the world around them. In a time when the environment is under attack from our own government officials, we need to make sure the next generation will value the world around them. 

How can we help kids and teens connect more with nature?  Through books, of course!

Over the course of the next year, I will be sharing books that can inspire readers to get outdoors.  In order to help you get more out of your reading experience (personally and professionally!), I’ve designed the #readwild reading challenge. I challenge you to build a wider repertoire of nature books and get outside more, too!  Beginning this week, I’ll share books and activities that you can do with the teens in your life.  Happy Earth Day and Happy Reading!

Share your favorite nature reads with us on social media using the hashtag #readwild!

Meet Sarah Mulhern Gross

I am a National Board Certified teacher who team-teaches an integrated humanities, science, and technology program to ninth grade students at High Technology High School in Lincroft, New Jersey. I am a regular contributor to the New York Times Learning Network and my writing has appeared in Scientific American, Edutopia, ASCD, and The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet. I also help teach a middle school science enrichment program through the STARS Challenge program at Monmouth University and I serve as a board member for the curiousYoungwriters blog, which provides a platform for publishing student writing that describes a nontraditional animal model in biomed research.

TheReadingZone Blog

wilddelight blog– Focused on integrating science and English class