Citizen Science: Third Graders Changing the World, One Observation at a Time

May 17, 2016

Ms. Denner and her third grade Super Citizen Scientists in the school garden. Third graders at Billy Mitchell Elementary School in Lawndale are looking at the world a bit differently now, thanks to their participation in NHMLA’s urban research SuperProject! For the past six months, the three third-grade classrooms led by Ms. Denner, Ms. Bradley, and Ms. Courtnell have been conducting observations in their school garden, and they have made some amazing discoveries along the way! Students have documented many garden creatures, including Monarch butterflies and their caterpillars, pillbugs, earwigs, White Cabbage and Gulf Fritillary butterflies, and milkweed bugs! Students even submitted a photo of larva (likely from the family Chironomidae) they found in the garden’s pollinator and bird water source and received help from the iNaturalist community on its identification!

Ms. Bradley and her third grade Super Citizen Scientists in the school garden. Billy Mitchell Elementary is one of eight schools in the Lawndale school district. Each institution has a school garden and has built curriculum and activities into their garden program. Billy Mitchell Elementary also has a seed-to-fork program in which students get to eat what they grow and simultaneously learn about nutrition and health. By working together in the garden, students at Billy Mitchell learn about the entire ecosystem, from the fungi in the soil to beneficial bugs, from worm bins and composting to important concepts like balance in nature. It was a natural fit to have the students incorporate observations on the wildlife in the garden to contribute to NHMLA urban nature research.

Juan Gutierrez (left) and Isaac Rosales (right) in the garden with their Super Citizen Scientist notebook in hand. Twice a month, each classroom headed out to the garden to make observations on the animals living there. Every student was armed with a data sheet, a clipboard, and an enhanced sense of wonder. Each discovery led to the children’s increased excitement about urban nature, and a greater appreciation for the ecosystem thriving alongside the students on school grounds!

A Southern Alligator Lizard is spotted! With the end of the school year approaching, the students were conducting their final observations as third graders. One of the students, Vincent Le (pictured below), made an exciting find: the papery moult from a Southern Alligator lizard! Since this species had not yet been found in the school garden, the hunt was on! Soon, Vincent’s perseverance (and a little help from Garden Volunteer Kris Lauritson) led to the school’s first alligator lizard record (above).

Vincent Le, the third grade Super Citizen Scientist who discovered the shed skin of an alligator lizard —and subsequently the lizard itself! The students at Billy Mitchell Elementary now have a lizard record that will get uploaded to iNaturalist and become an important data point for scientists. Equally important, these students have spent months getting to know their urban ecosystem and have a new appreciation for the nature around them. We are excited to have been a part of this opportunity for young minds to get involved with L.A. nature! Note: Our thanks go out to Kris Lauritson, a UC Master Gardener who has worked with these third graders and their teachers to incorporate NHMLA research into the school garden programming and was kind enough to share this story and her photos! Kris will be observing the garden with summer program students and will get new students involved in the fall! Keep up the good work! **All photos by Kris Lauritson

(Posted by: Emily Hartop)

1 Comment

What wonderful pictures of these 3rd graders. A great idea having them log their insect finds and the lizard. Good work to all especially Kristine Lauritson and her gardening projects.

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