Science has traditionally been a difficult subject to promote among many pupils. It’s viewed by some as difficult to understand and by others as not being relevant in day to day life. Many switch off when faced with chemical equations and theories and universities struggle to fill their science-based courses due to poor uptake at A level.

There is a way though to raise engagement in science and it’s being pioneered by the very people who are seen as elite and exclusive – scientists. Those who are carrying out research are using data more and more collected by school pupils through specific projects and the overall title given to this kind of work is ‘citizen science’.

What is citizen science?

Citizen science is where data is collected by non-professionals and the findings are then used by scientists. It is usually project-based and can either be for social and cultural scientific purposes or it can be used to develop new ideas and uses for scientific discoveries. The introduction into school has proved to hugely raise levels of engagement as classes are finding that a previously unsexy subject can be seen to be a very relevant part of their day to day life. They are often given the opportunity to have direct input into new ways of thinking and to make real changes to the world around us. It enthuses and motivates school pupils in a way science has never done so before.

Some ways citizen science has been used in schools

Schools can become involved in projects which span a number of areas of life. Pupils in Norfolk were given seeds to grow as part of an experiment to find a way that plants can resist a disease which destroys wheat. Their findings were invaluable for scientists as they were asked to plant the seeds and monitor their growth and record how the roots blackened as they became infected. The overall data was used as part of a famine relief project.

A further research experiment looked at air quality in cities and how this affected local trees. A real chance for pupils to get their hands dirty through examining soil in their local area of London whilst learning the species of trees they see every day and discussing ways to stop the environment passing on disease and infection to local nature.

Why pupils like citizen science

Citizen science gives pupils the opportunity to understand that science is part of their lives. It’s not a text book of chemicals and challenging diagrams, it’s real life. There is also the excitement that they are being given the role of scientists to carry out work which has never been done before. They are part of ground-breaking work rather than merely another lesson of churning out an experiment set year in, year out from a textbook.

There’s also the benefit for the school in that pupils are then more interested in the subject in general which helps with achievement and success rates and opens up doors for careers for those who didn’t realise how much they could love science. Groups such as Opal Explore Nature are often offering openings to schools to become involved – talk to them today and see engagement levels rise just as fast as a healthy tree sapling.