Tulips and Citizen Science

As I begin to connect with more and more garden coordinators, I realize that a common challenge with school gardens is “when and how to get kids out there.”  As a former teacher, I fully understand all that must be accomplished in a single school day and how overwhelming it can feel to add one more thing to the schedule, no matter how important.

For this reason I love it when people introduce me to user-friendly curriculum units like “Tulip Test Gardens” from Journey North (www.journeynorth.org). In this project students plant the same variety of tulip in their school gardens (using the same set of directions, such as no planting on north-facing slopes which would cause tulips to bloom early).  Students record when the flowers first emerge, and then again when they bloom, inputing their data on the Journey North website.  In this way, students “track the arrival of spring” across the globe, thus studying the relationship between climate and geography.

Our science teacher wants to try it out…..so our tulips were put in this week!

This curriculum falls squarely in the fascinating camp of “citizen science.”  Citizen science is basically mobilizing volunteers (not necessarily with any formal scientific training) to collect information for scientific purposes, often using observation and measurement.  The best known, and longest running, citizen science project is the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count (1900).  Another effort that takes place in backyard and school gardens, the”Great Sunflower Project” asks participants to record pollinator activity at sunflowers they plant. There are others—from “World Water Monitoring Day” to a on-line National Geographic “noninvasive survey” in which internet users analyze satellite images from the region of Genghis Khan’s lost tomb to help archaeologists on the ground.  (This is really interesting stuff–a little googling will lead you to many interesting projects.)

When it comes to school gardens, how cool is it for children to be collecting data with real-world applications?  I’ll let you know how our first attempt goes!