CSTA Classroom Science

Using Citizen Science to Support Social and Emotional Learning Needs During Covid-19 to Engage Students and Caregivers

By Peggy Harte M.Ed.

As teachers, students and caregivers transition from in-person instruction to distance learning, hybrid learning, or a blend of both, many are struggling with how to develop a classroom culture that engages and inspires students as they develop an emotional connection, all while attending to both their academic needs as well as social and emotional needs. With limited time in person (or virtually), many teachers are looking for ways to connect with students and make space for students to collaborate with one another.  One possible answer - engage students of all ages in authentic, real world participatory science.

Youth-focused community and citizen science (YCCS) involves young people directly in the scientific production of knowledge. In YCCS, young people contribute to professional research, influence management and policy, and impact environmental conservation in their communities. Youth-focused community and citizen science (YCCS) engages students in real world authentic investigations while deepening their content knowledge and skills as well as increasing their capacity to tackle environmental and community problems. In addition to engagement with content standards, YCCS projects can also be used to make space for attending to the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) of students.

citizen science pic 1.jpg

According to the Collaborative For Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) “Social and emotional learning (SEL) enhances students’ capacity to integrate skills, attitudes, and behaviors to deal effectively and ethically with daily tasks and challenges.”

YCCS projects can allow for lesson design that connects to content standards, makes space for collaboration and connection, and focuses on the SEL of students.  When looked at YCCS projects through a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) lens, we see that inquiry based projects that connect to authentic science allows for multiple means of engagement with content, as well as representation of student learning.

By engaging in a YCCS project whereby students are able to make observations from their own home or nearby outdoor space, they are able to begin observing the interconnectedness of their environment, connecting those observations to a CCS project, and comparing their observations with one another. 

From CASEL: The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is a trusted source for knowledge about high-quality, evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL). CASEL supports educators and policy leaders and enhances the experiences and outcomes for all PreK-12 students.  Their framework is based on years of research working with students and educators on developing SEL competencies.  

The YCCS Framework is a  research-based framework intended to help educators facilitate community and citizen science (CCS) activities in ways that support youth learning. CCS activities alone won’t necessarily promote meaningful science learning. Our case study research identified several Key Youth Practices which, when supported by Key Educator Practices, can create opportunities for consequential youth learning. More detail is available at yccs.ucdavis.edu.

Core Competence
From the CASEL Framework
From the CASEL Framework From the YCCS Framework


YCCS Connection: During YCCS core activities, students develop expertise as they build skills that allow for deeper inquiry based on their own observations.

-Identifying emotions
-Accurate self-perception
-Recognizing strengths

Core Activity: Develop expertise- Develop youth interest and gain proficiency with data collection

By engaging in a YCCS project, students are able to:

-Evaluate accuracy of observations as students focus on building skill and competency 
-Reflect on their ability to impact their community by contributing to a broader (sometimes global) project, in addition to learning more about their own local community/environment
-Identify ways in which they want to contribute based on individual skill level and interest (scientific sketching, data analysis, data contribution, historical research)- No academic prerequisites
-Develop agency and ethical responsibility, understanding the impact they can have


YCCS Connection:
As students deepen their skill set, they begin to take ownership of data quality, recognizing that the information collected will be used to take action and make change within their community.

-Impulse control
Stress management
-Organiza-tional skills

Key Youth Practice: Take ownership of data quality- Young people take responsibility for ensuring high quality CCS data collection and analysis

By engaging in a YCCS project, students are able to:

-Identify the benefits of spending time outdoors, away from a screen, while still engaging in deep scientific discovery and content learning
-Analyze on their own behavior and how it may impact their observations (or ability to make observations)
-Reflect on their own method of engagement based on interest and observations
-Focus on communication as they collect data in ways that allow for collaboration, focusing on organizing information so that it can be utilized by others

Social Awareness

YCCS Connection:
While engaging with monitoring projects/data analysis, students -begin to deepen understanding of the interconnectedness of ecosystems and the impact their decisions can have.

-Apprec-iating diversity
-Respect for others

Key Youth Practice: Engage with complex social ecological systems- Youth think about the interactions between humans and nature and consider the role they and their communities play.

By engaging in a YCCS project, students are able to:

-Recognize the human impact on the local environment
-Recognize the interconnectedness of the social ecological system they engage with and are a part of
-Recognize the importance of preserving and enriching biodiversity 
-Engage with and appreciate each other’s thinking and perspectives, as contributions are based on individual experiences

Relationship Skills

YCCS Connection:
By design, YCCS projects are a collaborative effort between youth and the scientific community.  Youth engage in collaborative projects, both within their peer group, building upon each other’s knowledge, but also have the opportunity to reach out to their local community stakeholders, as well as the broader scientific community.

-Social engagement
-Relation-ship- building

By engaging in a YCCS project, students are able to:

-Collaborate with each other to solve problems based on 
observations conducted by the team/class/group
-Evaluate best method for disseminating information gathered
-Engage with communicating findings in many ways: podcasts, presentations, articles, sharing findings with younger audiences
-Engage with outside partners and community stakeholders to take action and make change

Responsible Decision Making

YCCS Connection:
As students develop environmental science agencies, they become empowered to advocate for change within their community based on their own research and observations.

-Identifying problems
-Analyzing situations
-Solving problems
-Ethical responsibility

Youth Learning: Use citizen science experience to make changes in your life or community- Youth take actions—big or small—with environmental science to create personal and community change.

By engaging in a YCCS project, students are able to:

-Identify community problems based on observations
-Recognize the contributions of others as they collaborate across sites, locations, comparing observations to identify and solve problems
-Analyze data with a focus on solving a community identified problem
-Evaluate data contributed by peers as well as those in the broader scientific community
-Take action and make change.

For more information on ways to support distance learning engagement, or to read about project ideas, visit https://education.ucdavis.edu/yccs-home

Margaret (Peggy) Harte photo.png

Margaret (Peggy) Harte, M.Ed. 
Education Program Manager, UC Davis Center for Community and Citizen Science
Program Manager-Environmental Literacy and Instruction, Solano County Office of Education

A former classroom teacher and elementary science specialist with over 20 years of teaching experience, Peggy supports educators by designing and developing professional learning opportunities focusing on environmental literacy and citizen science. As the Education Program Manager at the Center for Community and Citizen Science at the UC Davis School of Education, Peggy co-collaborates in research looking at how citizen science projects engage students in deepening their connection to the environment, their engagement with the EP&Cs, and the application of NGSS and Common Core State Standards as they develop environmental science agency. She is also currently supporting educators (both formal and informal) as the ELI program manager at the Solano County Office of Education



Save | Print | Email Article

Print Friendly and PDF

Related Articles

From time to time CASE receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CASE. By publishing these articles CASE does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CASE’s Disclaimer Policy.