What is community science?
As a community science organization that purposefully democratizes science, Public Lab is uniquely positioned to support youth to become effective environmental scientists, stewards, and advocates. Public Lab defines community science as community-led scientific exploration and investigation to address community-defined questions, allowing for engagement in the entirety of the scientific process. Unlike traditional citizen science, Public Lab’s approach emphasizes local and traditional knowledge, community ownership of research, and working together in scalable networks to encourage collaborative learning and civic engagement. Intrinsic to this democratization is the necessary situating of environmental topics in their cultural and political contexts, accentuating the importance of realistic, relevant, and actionable study.
What does community science look like in a classroom?
Community science translates well into an educational context because young people are given a voice, platform, and level of consideration often absent in other aspects of their lives. Classroom community science projects are youth-led with an approach that emphasizes participant and community ownership of research, from question identification through analysis, and working together to encourage collaborative learning and civic engagement. After identifying their interests, students conduct research as they join the efforts of people and organizations already working on these issues and take the lead in aspects of study design, data collection, and analysis. The data collected from these student-designed projects supports community action and civic engagement.
Participating in community science projects benefits science learning by providing for many different kinds of roles within scientific activity, motivating underserved learners to participate in science, and engaging participants with scientific data in meaningful ways. In particular, opportunities to contribute to and lead work in a scientific or civic sphere, to take up the role of expert in relation to issues of community concern or opportunity, and to tailor one’s role within collective work to fit prior experiences, make community science a context for building a meaningful connection between students and science.
An educator who wanted to integrate community science principles into their practice might:
- Introduce a broad topic area and let student interest guide the direction of learning: when starting a unit on soil, ask students to name their concerns about the soil in their own backyards or on site at their school.
- Facilitate conversations about hyper-local environmental concerns: when talking about the global climate crisis, ask students what it looks like on a local level or how they experience the climate crisis in their everyday lives. Help students to build connections between local street flooding, increasing rain levels, and global changes in precipitation trends.
- Encourage students to respect their experiential knowledge and that of others: students can annotate maps with their local expertise, adding information that a satellite image or outside researcher could never bring to a project. When studying local issues, have students interview friends, family members, and teachers to learn more about how things have changed in their lifetimes.
- Connect in-classroom learning with community concerns: Local environmental justice groups, community associations, and grassroots organizers are often doing work that aligns with what your students are learning. You can use Public Lab’s geographic features to find people organizing in your area.
The chart below compares student activities and engagement throughout the scientific process when following community science principles versus traditional science education practices.
Examples of student work in the Public Lab community:
- Cancer Problems: Meet Cancer Alley
- The Problematic Pollution of Lake Pontchartrain
- Wateristic: an underwater bioluminescence detector
Leveraging Public Lab to bring community science into your classroom.
Public Lab’s online community and collection of research can be a resource for your classroom, connecting students to community members geographically or by project content. Public Lab’s website can be used as an online lab notebook for students to share their work as well as give and receive feedback.
Public Lab resources for getting started with community science in your classroom
- Getting Started: this webpage will help orient you to our online community. From this page, you can learn how to:
- Classroom Community Science Lesson Plans: An adaptable curricula for bringing student-led environmental projects into your classroom.
- Public Lab's main education page: see what other educators in our community are up to and get involved in the conversation.
This is part of a series for #EEWeek2021. To read more environmental education content, be sure to follow the Education tag.