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Lesson Plan: Bringing Citizen Science into the Classroom

Hey, all! I know, I know, we’re late with the usually-on-Mondays lesson plan. However, I think I was too bowled over by Monday’s tragic events to work on much else, and I’ve started another post to discuss that. So late as we are, let’s get started!

I’d like to present a bit of a lesson plan developed by two of my colleagues at CosmoQuest, Kathy Costello and Ellen Reilly. Between the two of them, they have many decades of science teaching experience and are fantastic to work with. In fact, we just spent most of last week at the national conference of the National Science Teachers Association presenting many of the lessons from the three-week long unit on comparative lunar and Earth geology. The units ties nicely in with Moon Mappers, our longest running citizen science project over at the CosmoQuest site.

MoonMappers allows people to look at high resolution images of the Moon from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. There are SO many images, and computer algorithms that detect surface features are only 70% accurate compared to a human trained in planetary geology. However, there just aren’t any humans who can spend all their time measuring craters, so we’re crowd sourcing the problem. We find that there is a 98% match in crater marking between a professional scientist and the averaged contributions of several citizen scientists. With the help of our CosmoQuesters, we’ve marked well over a million craters and the first science results are pending review.

Image by Stuart Robbins, aka AstroStu

Image by Stuart Robbins, aka AstroStu

So can kids do this, too? We’ve had a crater-marker as young as five work on our site, with a little parental help, of course. However, we wanted to extend this experience to teachers who would like to add a little authentic science in their classroom. We also wanted to tie in to as many of the national and international science standards as possible. It’s inquiry-based learning that checks a check-box off your list. That is pretty good, right?

The middle school unit, called TerraLuna, eventually ends with the citizen science mapping project, but there are many lessons and activities along the way. The first day’s lesson is called “Why the Moon?” and primarily explores the similarities and differences between the Earth and the Moon. Students are asked to draw a Venn diagram and identify which surface features are only found on Earth, only found on the Moon, or found on both. To help this along, there is an activity called “Earth or Not Earth.” You can break up your students into teams for this and give each team and set of black and white images. They have to sort these pictures into two groups, “Earth” or “Moon.” This set could be expanded, of course, to other rocky bodies in the Solar System to make it more challenging, but the initial set keeps it focused on the Earth-Moon connection.

Want to give it a try? I’ll be featuring a set of posts on CosmoQuest’s blog asking “Earth or Not Earth” but I can get you all started here. So where do you think this image was taken, Earth or Moon? Note, these are all aerial or satellite views, to give you a sense of scale.

Screen Shot 2013-04-17 at 4.41.44 PM

Is this Earth or Moon? Provide your answer and reasoning in the comments below!

There is a right or wrong answer with these pictures. However, try and get your students to expand on why they chose the grouping they did. What clues were in the picture? What features could they identify? If they did the Venn diagram activity earlier, does this change their answer? Did they have more features to add or re-categorize? At the end of the lesson, you want your students to come away with an idea of how many surface features on Earth have analogies on the Moon and that planetary geologists study these features to tease out the history of the Moon and Earth-Moon system.

You can find a pdf of the full lesson here or get the whole suite of TerraLuna materials at the CosmoQuest Educators’ Zone. Hope you enjoyed and I’ll be happy to share more “looney” lessons in the future!

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Nicole

Nicole

Nicole is an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at a small liberal arts college. Her home on the internet can be found at One Astronomer's Noise.

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