5 Apps that Encourage Kids to Become Citizen Scientists

Citizen science expands scientific inquiry and research from academics, researchers, and clinicians to include volunteers "outside the lab," if you will, many of whom do not have formal scientific training. Volunteers -- individuals and large networks of people -- aid scientific projects through observations, calculations, and other support efforts.

One of the most well-known citizen science projects may be SETI@home, where anyone can donate some of the resources from their Internet-connected computers to help analyze radio telescope data in the search for extraterrestrial life.

But there are any number of citizen science projects, and as exciting as the search for aliens is for me, there are many that may be more suitable and satisfying for kids.

Here's a list of a few apps, many of which are mobile apps and take advantage of the cellphone's camera and/or GPS, that would make good tools for budding scientists.

Project Noah

Project Noah lets you document the wildlife around you. You can post a new spotting, upload photos, tag plants and animals with location data, join missions, and earn patches. The app also contains a field guide to help you identify the wildlife you find. It's a beautifully designed app and is available for free for both iPhone and Android.

iNaturalist

iNaturalist is a social network for nature-lovers. It's an online community where you can record and share your observations from the natural world. iNaturalist has just released an iPhone app that lets you log the plants and animals you come across. If you need help identifying things, the rest of the iNaturalist community can help.

Project Squirrel

There's no mobile app for Project Squirrel, but what I love about this citizen science project nonetheless is the recognition that almost everyone -- no matter where they live -- has squirrels in their neighborhood. That, along with the differences between the gray squirrel and the fox squirrel -- in appearance, in habitat -- make Project Squirrel a great introductory citizen science project. The website lets you record your squirrel observations and upload photos. You can even mail in your data via a printable form.

The WildLab

The WildLab has two apps currently available for the iPhone -- Crab App and WildLab Bird -- and you can sign up as a spotter via its website. The WildLab Bird app, as the name suggests, involves identifying and geo-tagging bird species. The Crap App helps collect information about horseshoe crabs, their numbers and their egg-laying.

Does anyone have any other recommendations? I'm really keen to hear about projects that are web-based and don't rely on kids having smart-phones or iPod Touches to utilize.


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