Lessons learned leading citizen science (CS) activities within the CitieS-Health H2020 project on the topic of noise exposure and health at a primary school in Ljubljana, Slovenia, will be useful for other CS projects. These activities were organised in the form of a School Tech-Day Event (STDE) as part of the school’s curriculum involving second-grade pupils, ages 7–8. The STDE was aligned with the project’s methodological framework, which is based on co-creation and co-design principles. To this end, the pupils initially were involved in identifying noise-related issues and translation of selected topics into research questions. Next, together with mentors, they participated in the process of hypothesis formulation and the designing of data collection protocols. In the last phase, they participated in three focused noise measurement experiments, as well as data analysis and presentation.
“We report and critically evaluate the whole chain of activities, focusing on the participant dimension using selected components of the citizen science evaluation framework. The event was very well-received by both pupils and teachers, and their active participation and hands-on experience with scientific processes contributed to their improved scientific literacy”, explained David Kocman, coordinator of the Ljubljana CitieS-Health pilot project and researcher at the Department of Environmental Sciences, Jožef Stefan Institute
Image: Pupils participate in the different parts of the research. They evaluate the results collected during the measurement experiments: (a) summarising the results on a poster; and (b,c) presenting results during the “mini-symposium”. Source: https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/12/23/10213.
In addressing the citizen science evaluation framework’s participant dimension, researchers used various criteria at the “process and feasibility” and “outcome and impact” levels. At the process and feasibility level, the evaluation criteria comprised target group alignment, degree of participation intensity, facilitation, and communication. To this end, the researchers observed that all the activities carried out within the STDE were designed for and tailored according to the capabilities and needs of the pupils, the specific target group involved. Their degree of involvement varied throughout the day, from participation in group activities only to more active voluntary participation in data analysis and presentation. “We observed different levels and types of involvement: some pupils were more prepared to conduct measurements, while others were more involved in the analysis and discussion”, said Kocman.
An important goal of the STDE was to stimulate pupils’ interest in science and demonstrate how the research work is conducted. To this end, following the philosophy and concept of the CitieS-Health project, they were engaged based on the co-creation and co-design principles in all four general phases: identification, design, deployment, and action. “The involvement level varied between these phases. For example, the pupils were very much involved in discussions regarding the formulation of research questions and hypotheses”, declared the researcher. Throughout the process, the pupils were guided by researchers who received help from teachers, and two-way communication was encouraged.
Researchers found that the motivation of pupils varied in the course of the day, which was to be expected for students of their age, overall they seemed very motivated and proud, especially when they realised that they actively were involved in activities as young scientists and understood something that they did not before. Moreover, teachers’ interest in conducting similar activities in the future also was sparked. The pupils did reinforce their knowledge about sound and noise and learned how to reduce the negative consequences from noise pollution to benefit their health, per example by avoiding traffic and busy roads, not listening to loud music, and not making loud noises at school.
Recommendations for Future Research
The first aspect concerns new technologies available today and the practicalities of their use. The teaching possibilities in the school curriculum virtually are unlimited. Existing methodologies can help with the evaluation and selection process of such tools, including criteria for selection of mobile app for noise measurements.
The second aspect is the evaluation of the efficiency of the overall process, specifically of the pupils’ newly acquired knowledge. “Not only is assessing their knowledge on a particular topic relevant, but it also is necessary to gather more in-depth knowledge about their experience as citizen scientists. Future research should provide more information on ways to gather and analyse this information. Do pupils understand what research is? Who are researchers, and what do they do? What role does citizen science play in their lives? These questions could prove to be too complex for young children, but a simplified version would suffice”, concluded Kocman.
The researchers found that CS activities have a great potential for ongoing inclusion in the school curriculum in the STDE current format, or else adjusted according to specifics from other science and technology fields.
Reference: Citizen Science as Part of the Primary School Curriculum: A Case Study of a Technical Day on the Topic of Noise and Health. David Kocman, Tjaša Števanec,Rok Novak, and Natalija Kranjec. Sustainability 2020, 12(23), 10213; https://doi.org/10.3390/su122310213. Published: 7 December 2020 (This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Citizenship and Education)