Community Science Learning Module (K-12)

Wednesday 1:13 PT / 2:13 MT / 3:13 CT / 4:13 ET Online
Teaching Demonstration Part of Teaching Demonstrations


Kelly McCarthy, American Geophysical Union


The Rendezvous activity will include a demonstration of how to integrate the idea of community science into the classroom through a series of hands-on exercises that can be applied to any discipline.


The learning module includes a series of activities that facilitate skill building in community and civic engagement through the lens of community science. The practice of community science is defined as a way of 'doing science' by which communities and scientists work together to advance one or more local priorities. The Thriving Earth Exchange uses an established four-phase approach to enable community science projects that have resulted in tangible local impact in over 100 communities. The activity, aimed at high school students, will build on well-documented success of place-based learning by demonstrating the power of a community-first approach to science. This can serve as a stand-alone learning module or as a basis for a longer-term capstone in community-driven science led by the students.
Participants will reflect on their community identity, practice active listening, and design a project scope that involves thoughtful integration of a community/local priority and scientific concept. It aligns with NGSS HS-ESS3-2 "Science knowledge indicates what can happen in natural systems - not what should happen. The latter involves ethics, values, and human decisions about the use of knowledge. Many decisions are not made using science alone, but rely on social and cultural contexts to resolve issues."


Components of this activity are regularly used in Thriving Earth Exchange workshops for Community Science Fellows, prospective community scientists, and community leaders. I have incorporated an early version of this concept into a high school environmental science class several years ago, but have improved that activity by structuring it through the lens of Thriving Earth Exchange's community science approach. Anecdotally, the engagement and interest in Earth-related sciences coupled with an understanding of societal impacts was much higher in my students who had the opportunity to design a project that had relevance to an environmental priority in their own neighborhoods (in my students' case, collaborating with members of a local watershed association whose priority was to restore our local waterways that had been contaminated by years of acid mine drainage) as compared to students who worked through our traditional curriculum without a local, place-based connection. The target audience for the version that will be demonstrated in this section is a K-12 audience but this activity can be adapted across all levels from 'k to grey.' This can be used as a stand-a-lone reflection that builds understanding in the application of science to societal priorities, or can be a starting point for a longer-term community science project (see my note about how community science is defined in the description above.

Why It Works

The concepts laid out in this activity are based on the Thriving Earth Exchange's community science approach and has been adapted for audiences that include Community Science Fellows, educators working on policy-focused Fellowships. The activity is effective and worthwhile for several reasons. The concepts and skills practiced are not new. However the structured approach to community science developed by the Thriving Earth Exchange, and tangible actionable projects included as examples allow this activity to be versatile and robust. As outlined in the NRC K-12 Framework For Education, "Many decisions are not made using science alone, but rely on social and cultural contexts to resolve issues." Threaded in this statement is the idea that the values and priorities of each student can drive science (when considering Community Science as an approach to research we often talk about the idea that "while science has a seat on the bus, it does not drive the bus." This concept is not new in science education. Beginning a learning experience by focusing on student identity and place is an established practice. The innovative piece that will be included in this demonstration is cause it can be integrated into any discipline as a set of exercises that allow students to really reflect about potential applications of the scientific concepts they are learning.

Connection Info

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