Seattle Waldorf School fourth grade gardening students have been participating in a citizen science project with the Thornton Creek Alliance for the past three years. Students monitor local waters for Escherida coli, counting and recording the number of E. coli found at two sites. Some strains of E. coli, which is bacteria that lives in our intestines, can be harmful to humans by causing intestinal distress, pneumonia, and kidney failure. Using safe sampling techniques, students take replicate water samples from the south fork of Thornton Creek after it passes under Lake City Way and from Willow Creek before it enters the south fork of Thornton Creek. Both sites are a short walk from the Meadowbrook campus and our younger preschool and kindergarten students know this area as the Hidden or Friendly Forest. The information we gather is used by Seattle Public Utilities scientists to pinpoint pollution sources and improve water quality for the entire Thornton Creek watershed. This year, sixth grade students are planning to analyze the three years of data they and subsequent fourth grade students have collected to see if they can detect any patterns in changing levels of E.coli. This long-term project, coupled with our stewardship of the Meadowbrook school grounds and the Secret Forest ( Lavilla Natural Area), engages students in the natural world while developing scientific knowledge and literacy.
Citizen science offers the general public, students, families, and individuals an opportunity to collaborate with professional scientists. Scientists need the collective help and brainpower of people from all over the world to gather and analyze their data. There are many different types of citizen science projects in need of volunteers. You may have heard of Foldit, a online game developed at the University of Washington, that allows people to help solve complex protein structures that are important to advance medical science. Citizen science projects are as diverse and varied as the questions scientists ask. Thousands of projects are available. NASA has an application called Globe Observer, where you can help confirm satellite cloud observations, map mosquito habitat, identify land use, or track the growth of trees. Projects can be local like the project we are participating in along Thornton Creek, or can be more global and done from the comfort of your home. Several databases have been established for anyone to search to find a project that matches their interests. These include SciStarter, Zooniverse, and the federal government citizen science website.
As we are spending more time at home during the pandemic, participating in one of these projects, perhaps even a project that is studying the impact of coronavirus, may help you and members of your family feel more connected to your local and global community, while helping advance our understanding of our world.
–Dr. Charlotte Rasmussen, Seattle Waldorf School Garden Educator