Members of Canadian Geographic Education recently donned oversized galoshes and arm-length red rubber gloves with a Grade 12 class from Neelin High School in Brandon, Man. The budding scientists had gathered in Riding Mountain National Park in early October for a mini “bioblitz.” Their mission: visit two creeks within the Lake Winnipeg watershed — one disturbed by human activity, one relatively untouched — and catalogue as many aquatic species as possible in just a few hours. This condensed bioblitz served as a pilot for a larger, 24-hour bioblitz that will be held in May 2016.
“Citizen science and fi eld work, or crowd-sourcing data, is working its way back into everyday education,” says Ellen Curtis, director of Canadian Geographic Education. “It encourages students to get outside of their classrooms and connect what they’ve learned in textbooks to real-world situations.”
The bioblitzes are part of a larger educational initiative that aims to map the entire Lake Winnipeg watershed. This cross-border project, called OPEN Water, is spearheaded by Canadian Geographic Education, the Minnesota Alliance for Geographic Education and the North Dakota Geographic Alliance. They hope to give teachers from all regions tools that will help their students visualize the watershed, recognize their place within it and appreciate the impact of localized activities on the watershed as a whole. Citizen science is one excellent way of doing this, and it could ultimately contribute to the scientific community’s understanding of the watershed.
“Citizen science pushes the envelope of what ecologists can achieve,” wrote Cornell Lab of Ornithology professor Janis Dickinson in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. With countless new educational tools available, organized and widespread data collection can both expand the bounds of what is possible in research and supplement existing, but localized, research programs.
“Too often, geography classrooms limit the type of learning that students are able to do,” says Curtis. “Citizen science initiatives like OPEN Water are helping to show that geography is more than just memorizing capes and bays. It’s connected to everything.”