We're All In This Together: Community science for learning and action

Tuesday 4:30pm-5:45pm TSU - Barn Auditorium
Plenary Talk


Science is awesome, especially Earth Science. We've figured out how moving continents create our highest mountain ranges and form our deepest ocean trenches. We know how thunderstorms form, and why some of them spawn tornadoes. We've been able to map the deep history of our planet (including dinosaurs!), discover ice on Mars, and find life in the extreme darkness, temperature and pressure at the bottom of the ocean.

And yet, despite all that, some people don't get that excited about Earth science. Students aren't choosing to study Earth science or even science - especially students from historically under-represented groups. The US ranks 19th in science literacy among 15-year-olds. There isn't an advanced placement test for Earth science, and the Environmental Science AP test is relatively new and lightly subscribed.

Worse still, there is evidence that people aren't even accessing Earth science in their civic or personal lives. In spite of what we continue to learn about hurricanes and forest fires, our losses from both continue to grow. We've known about the risks of climate change for almost 50 years and we are still unprepared and vulnerable. Our actions are largely amplifying not reducing the problems. In addition, communities, especially communities of color and communities with less economic resources still live in polluted environments that shorten their lives and undermine their opportunities.

How is it that our science is not tapped by more people to make a bigger impact? Most importantly, what can we, as scientists and science educators, do about it?

I'll explore the implications of one very promising approach - community science. In the context of Earth science education, you can think of Community Science as a blend of citizen science, service learning, good old-fashioned hands-on investigative pedagogy, and community engagement - all mixed with a healthy attention of equity. Community science is when scientists - professional scientists, science students, and science teachers - and community members who aren't otherwise trained in science work together to tackle local issues or advance local priorities. Examples range from working in Afghanistan to update traditional ecologically-based agricultural practices using insights from climate science or building a community-based STEAM program in Atlanta based on efforts to understand and protect a local watershed.

Community Science advances science, it brings new people and ideas into science, and uses science to build a better future. There is growing evidence that Community Science contributes to individual science literacy and community-wide capacity to leverage science. When community science is done with careful attention to equity and an explicit consideration of existing inequities, it can be a way to help historically marginalized, neglected or even oppressed communities seize their right to guide, contribute to, and benefit from science.

This talk will use stories about community science to illustrate key strategies that you can adapt to pull community science into your teaching and into your work. We'll talk about how to engage with community groups, how to scope a meaningful local project, and how to reach out to scientists and other partners. The stories will show how successful projects navigated hurdles and highlight the preparation that helped projects succeed. We'll also offer troubleshooting strategies for when things get off track or you need to get buy-in from a skeptic.

We'll share learning from AGU's Thriving Earth Exchange, which has launched almost 100 community science projects, and offer insights from the Earth Connections Effort, which used community science as part of educational pathways that stretched across grade-levels. My hope is you'll leave the talk inspired to try community science in your teaching, with a good idea about how to start, and where to turn for allies moving forward.

This event and associated refreshments are sponsored by NAGT's Teacher Education Division. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed by the plenary speaker and the sponsor are independent and do not necessarily reflect the views of one another.