The utility of citizen science projects in K-5 schools: measures of community engagement and student impacts


The field of citizen science is one of the fastest growing sectors in informal education, specifically because of the new opportunities that are now available within today’s digitized and networked world. This paper describes a unique co-created citizen science project, WeatherBlur, which brought fishermen, elementary students, and teachers from island and coastal communities together with research scientists via an online platform to share, analyze, and interpret data about the local impact of climate change. The project was designed utilizing a sociocultural learning approach that integrated communities of practice, knowledge building, funds of knowledge, and place-based education theory. The study aimed to understand how scientists, community members, and students interact to promote learning and collaboration within an online learning community. In addition, the study addressed the impact of the program on elementary student learning outcomes in earth science and graph interpretation. Data analyses suggest that the model implemented provided a high level of interactivity across all ages and groups, and increased students’ understanding of earth science and skills in graph interpretation. Findings are used to describe the utility of using citizen science projects in K-5 schools.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1


  1. Barab, S., & Squire, K. (2004). Introduction: Design-based research—putting a stake in the ground. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 13(1), 1–14.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Bonney, R., Ballard, H.L., Jordan, R., & McCallie, E. (2009a). Public participation in scientific research: Defining the field and assessing its potential for informal science education. A CAISE inquiry group report. Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE).

  3. Bonney, R., Cooper, C. B., Dickinson, J., Kelling, S., Phillips, T., Rosenberg, K. V., et al. (2009b). Citizen science: A developing tool for expanding science knowledge and scientific literacy. BioScience, 59(11), 977–984.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Cousins, J. B., Whitmore, E., & Shulha, L. (2013). Arguments for a common set of principles for collaborative inquiry in evaluation. American Journal of Evaluation, 34(1), 7–22.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Dickinson, J. L., Shirk, J., Bonter, D., Bonney, R., Crain, R. L., Martin, J., et al. (2012). The current state of citizen science as a tool for ecological research and public engagement. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 10(6), 291–297.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Environmental issues with geospatial technology (pp. 139–152). Netherlands: Springer. Retrieved from

  7. Fadel, C., & Lemke, C. (2006). Technology in schools: What the research says. A report from the Metiri Group, commissioned by Cisco Systems.  

  8. Gardiner, M. M., Allee, L. L., Brown, P. M., Losey, J. E., Roy, H. E., & Smyth, R. R. (2012). Lessons from lady beetles: accuracy of monitoring data from US and UK citizen-science programs. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 10(9), 471–476.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Gray, S., Nicosia, K., & Jordan, R. (2012). Lessons learned from citizen science in the classroom. A Response to “The future of citizen science.” Democracy and Education, 20(2). Retrieved from

  10. Gupte, M., Shankar, P., Li, J., Muthukrishnan, S., & Iftode, L. (2011). Finding hierarchy in directed online social networks. In Proceedings of the 20th international conference on world wide web (pp. 557–566). New York, NY: ACM.

  11. Hakkarainen, K. (2003). Emergence of progressive-inquiry culture in computer-supported collaborative learning. Learning Environments Research, 6(2), 199–220.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Hakkarainen, K., & Sintonen, M. (2002). The interrogative model of inquiry and computer-supported learning. Science & Education, 11(1), 25–43.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Hargreaves, A. (1994). Changing teachers, changing times: Teachers’ work and culture in the postmodern age. London: Continuum.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Hewitt, J., & Teplovs, C. (1999). An analysis of growth patterns in computer conferencing threads. In Proceedings of the 1999 conference on computer support for collaborative learning. Palo Alto: International Society of the Learning Sciences. Retrieved from

  15. Howell-Richardson, C., & Mellar, H. (1996). A methodology for the analysis of patterns of participation within computer mediated communication courses. Instructional Science, 24(1), 47–69.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. John-Steiner, V., & Mahn, H. (1996). Sociocultural approaches to learning and development: A Vygotskian framework. Educational Psychologist, 31(3–4), 191–206.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Kozulin, A., Gindis, B., Ageyev, V. S., & Miller, S. M. (2003). Vygotsky’s educational theory in cultural context. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Lai, M., & Law, N. (2013). Questioning and the quality of knowledge constructed in a CSCL context: A study on two grade-levels of students. Instructional Science, 41(3), 597–620.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Louv, R. (2012). The nature principle: Human restoration and the end of nature-deficit disorder. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Oshima, J., Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (1996). Collaborative learning processes associated with high and low conceptual progress. Instructional Science, 24(2), 125–155.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (1994). Computer support for knowledge-building communities. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 3(3), 265–283.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (2006). Knowledge Building: Theory, pedagogy, and technology. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences (pp. 97–115). Cambridge University Press.

  23. Senge, P., Cambron-McCabe, N., Lucas, T., Smith, B., Dutton, J., & Kleiner, A. (2000). A fifth discipline resource: Schools that learn. A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares About Education.

  24. Vygotsky, L. S. (1980). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Wertsch, J. V. (1985). Vygotsky and the Social Formation of Mind. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Zhang, J., Scardamalia, M., Reeve, R., & Messina, R. (2009). Designs for collective cognitive responsibility in knowledge-building communities. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 18(1), 7–44.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We would like to thank Martin Lodish, Nancy Miles, Marie Pryor, Jane Robertson, and Michael Weatherwax for assisting in the data collection and data coding for this study. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant numbers DRL#1217247 and DRL#1451315. We would also like to thank all of the outstanding teachers that worked hand-in-hand with us throughout the duration of this project, Laura Venger, Marci Train, Paula Johnson, Josh and Heidi Holloway, Kristin Westra, Nancy Earnest, Maggie Small, and Bev Johnson.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ruth Kermish-Allen PhD.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors confirm that they have no conflict of interest with CSSE, including any interest or relationship, financial or otherwise, that might be perceived as influencing an author’s objectivity is considered a potential source of conflict of interest.

Additional information

Lead editor: Ruth Kermish-Allen.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 27 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Kermish-Allen, R., Peterman, K. & Bevc, C. The utility of citizen science projects in K-5 schools: measures of community engagement and student impacts. Cult Stud of Sci Educ 14, 627–641 (2019).

Download citation


  • Weather and climate
  • Elementary school
  • Citizen science
  • Online learning
  • Co-created citizen science