Last year, as part of the Wee Green Spaces training project in Aberdeen City for Early Years staff, one of the local OPAL scientists, KeithMarshall, ran a practical session showing participants how to use the materials and conduct simple data collection surveys with children. It is very satisfying for classes of any age to be involved in something that feeds into a national project. Their work counts!
With the new school year having started in Scotland, I felt it is a good time to share more information about OPAL to help you plan your year ahead. Joanne Dempster who is the OPAL Community Scientist based at the Glasgow Science Centre has kindly submitted the following information. The OPAL website is well worth exploring – direct links have been added below to take you to the information you may need to get you started.
What is Citizen Science?
Citizen Science involves the collection, analysis or interpretation of scientific data by members of the general public. Whatever your interest there is a programme out there for you or your group, from classifying newly discovered planets to tracking the changing seasons or monitoring local air quality there is something for just about everybody!
How does Citizen Science relate to education?
For teachers, citizen science provides exciting opportunities to enrich science education. As well as providing an immersive and exciting slant on a topic, citizen science often incorporates basic scientific principles such as scientific observation and the understanding of cause and effect. When taking part participants often have to record and analyse data working on scientific literacy skills, data analysis and numeracy. Finally citizen science presents pupils with the opportunity to get involved in real and meaningful science. It lends the classroom science project real purpose, where all data is valued equally regardless of whether it came from a professional scientist or school eco group. It gives pupils the chance to be a scientist making it easier for them to picture themselves in this role in a future career.
What are OPAL surveys all about?
The Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) is a citizen science project running across the whole of the UK. Since the project started in 2007 OPAL have been working with schools, to support them in delivering outdoor science lessons using citizen science. OPAL run six different citizen science surveys looking at various aspects of environmental health, they cover topics from invertebrate biodiversity and invasive species to water health and air quality. Each survey is a combination of an important environmental question and a chance to learn more about a chosen topic. On completion of a survey all data can be reported back via the OPAL website allowing scientists to use the information to enhance scientific understanding of the natural environment.
OPAL for schools
For schools or groups looking to get involved there are plenty of options. The surveys are linked with the Scottish, Welsh and English Curriculum and suggested lesson plans are available for each survey across both Primary and Secondary levels for Curriculum for Excellence. Each survey is also available as a free pack which can be requested from one of the five OPAL Community Scientists around the UK. The packs contain all of the background information and instruction needed for teachers to run the survey with their class. The surveys are designed to use very simple and easily accessible equipment; from plastic bottles to washing basins no high tech gadgets are required. Although many teachers will be happy simply to grab the packs and go, others may want extra support. The OPAL Community Scientists are available to run outdoor class workshops, teacher training or simply to advise on how to use the survey to fit in with your class’s topics, abilities or available outdoor space.
The OPAL surveys are available to everyone in the UK, schools, communities and individuals are all welcome to take part. Whether your motivation is to take part in a UK wide environmental survey, get your pupils working outside or simply to enjoy learning more about your natural surroundings you are welcome to take part in these surveys which have already seen over 50,000 submissions of data since the project began. If you would like to find out more visit the website or get in touch with an OPAL community Scientist near you.
Year of Fieldwork
2015-2016 is the Year of Fieldwork. The OPAL surveys are a really doable introduction to fieldwork which can be done on your doorstep! Don’t forget that surveys are seasonal. For example, a minibeast survey is best done in the summer months as it’s harder to find minibeasts in the winter. The other useful thing to know, is that the OPAL surveys work in any environment: urban, playing fields, woodland, etc. In fact it’s a good opportunity to find out what does exist in your concrete jungle!