[Jen] Inquiry is more than something you do in your classroom… it’s a natural way that humans approach the world.

We’re naturally observant and curious! I know with a 5-year-old at home, I’m always surprised by the types and numbers of questions I get and I’m always Google-ing something. I think that’s what I like about science, there’s always something more to learn.

Making observations and asking questions, those are just basic processes of science. Hey Kelly, what’chya looking at?

[Kelly] Well there’s a couple geese out in the water and I’m wondering if they’re starting to think about mating…

[Jen] It’s that time of year! When I’m outside, questions naturally arise. How do these geese keep their feet from freezing in those frigid waters out here? [goose sounds] And how come the birds are getting so noisy right now? And when I add doing citizen science to the mix, the questions can even get richer.

Whether I’m participating in eBird or Project FeederWatch, I’m observing patterns over time. Are the birds going to start nesting earlier this year because it’s looking like it’s going to be a warmer spring?

Citizen Science and outdoor observations are great opportunities for rich questions.

[Kelly] Research shows that kids should learn science by doing science, and that they should use the same methods that professional scientists do. Kids should be engaged in the types of investigations that allow them to ask and answer their own questions, especially if the answers to those questions aren’t known before hand.

Yeah, It is important to know content…but you also need to teach the “hows”of science. Teaching content alone can leave students with a naive understanding of what scientific inquiry is And it can leave them with the impression
that science is just a body of isolated facts.

[Jen] Citizen-science makes inquiry even more real-world. You’re answering your own questions…but you’re also contributing data to an authentic science project! That’s really motivating for students because they know that the data they’re collecting actually matters!

The combination of citizen science and inquiry? It’s really powerful!

[Kelly] As you move through this course, you’ll find ways to take advantage of the combination of citizen science and inquiry to spark student interest and capture their curiosity.

[Jen] Whether on birds, mammals, invertebrates, or phenology, there’s sure to be a citizen-science project for you and your students!

End of transcript

Inspiring Investigations through Citizen Science

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About This Course
  • Lessons inside: 6
  • Topics inside: 25
  • Completion time (estimated): 20 hours
  • Level: Advanced
  • Categories: Art and Technical Skills
  • Discussion groups to keep you learning
  • Self-paced, no expiration date, 100% online
  • 60-day refund guarantee
Girls with binoculars Image: K-12 Education

Why We Made This Course

"The Cornell Lab has pioneered the use of inquiry and citizen science in the classroom as a powerful way to harness the natural curiosity of students and transform it into experiences they will never forget.

Through case-studies, practice activities, standards alignment, and reflection, this course will prepare you to weave inquiry-based learning into your students’ lives in ways that will build their confidence and motivation to engage in science."

—Jennifer Fee, Course Instructor
Boy with binoculars and notebook

What's Inside

Just because the course is completed on your own time doesn’t mean it isn’t interactive. Throughout the course, you’ll hear from teachers who have successfully used citizen science with students. You’ll also participate in discussion boards and learn from other educators as well as your Cornell Lab facilitators. We’ll encourage you to get outside and explore, and to think about applications for and implementation in your own program or classroom. Finally, quizzes and assignments will help you test your knowledge and understanding.

Greetings Educators!

Investigating Evidence

This self-paced course will help you explore inquiry-based learning and scientific investigation, especially as inspired by outdoor observations and citizen-science.

The course enrollment fee is $59.95 and provides two Continuing Education Units (CEUs) from Cornell University upon successful completion of the course. You will need to download the Investigating Evidence curriculum as the “textbook” for this course, or you can purchase a full-color printed copy for $25 on the K-12 Education website.

Course Overview

Lesson 1: Inquiry, Citizen Science, and Educational Standards
  • Define “citizen science” accurately in your own words.
  • Define “inquiry” accurately in your own words.
  • Explain the benefits of teaching through citizen science and inquiry.
  • Describe how citizen science and inquiry are related.
  • Identify the science practices developed through citizen science and inquiry.
Lesson 2: Observe and Wonder
  • Describe the importance of fostering observations.
  • Identify an inference versus an observation.
  • Distinguish between open-ended and closed-ended questions.
  • Differentiate between questions that can be answered through reference materials, data exploration, observational study, and experimentation.
Lesson 3: Plan and Carry Out Investigations
  • Support students in writing a testable hypothesis.
  • Identify independent and dependent variables.
  • Define variables in an experimental study.
Lesson 4: Collect and Visualize Data
  • Correctly identify and describe four commonly-used kinds of graphs.
  • Determine which type of graph is best suited to display various types of data.
  • Name at least three common mistakes when graphing data.
  • Describe how citizen science can contribute to data literacy.
Lesson 5: Assess and Share Investigations
  • Identify challenges and potential solutions for teaching inquiry in the classroom
  • Use a rubric to evaluate a scientific report.
  • Describe four ways to share student investigations.
Lesson 6: Conclusions
  • Develop a personalized implementation plan for your educational setting around inquiry and citizen science.

Meet the Course Instructors

Jennifer Fee Expert in Science Education, Co-author of Citizen Science: 15 Lessons That Bring Biology to Life

Jennifer Fee is the Manager of K-12 programs at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology where she and her team have developed a network of more than 30,000 educators from all over the country and internationally. Her expertise is in helping educators integrate citizen science into teaching practices and connecting youth with nature. She has taught more than a hundred  professional development workshops and is the co-author of Citizen Science: 15 Lessons That Bring Biology to Life from the NSTA press. She holds a B.S. (Biology) from Truman State University and M.S. (Behavior, Ecology,… Read full bio

Lindsay Glasner
Lindsay Glasner Expert in Environmental Education

Lindsay Glasner is the Outreach Coordinator with the Cornell Lab’s K-12 Education program where she leads workshops, manages the ambassador program, designs curricula, and creates online courses. Drawing from her graduate-level training in environmental education, Lindsay inspires teachers and their students to tune in to birds and ask their own scientific questions. Lindsay caught the birding bug while working at the Cornell Lab and is now a full-fledged birder and a passionate spokesperson for citizen science.

Most Recent Course: eBird Essentials
Kelly Schaeffer
Kelly Schaeffer Expert in Environmental Education

As a K-12 Education Specialist at the Cornell Lab, Kelly Schaeffer works to help students connect to birds and nature through scientific exploration. Kelly has lead dozens of sessions and workshops for educators at conferences across the US, including NSTA, NAAEE, and BOOST. With a background in wildlife field research, Kelly brings an understanding of what it takes to conduct authentic science inquiry into everything she develops. She holds B.S. degrees (Wildlife Conservation and Entomology) from the University of Delaware and an M.S. (Environmental… Read full bio

Most Recent Course: Inspiring Investigations through Citizen Science
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This Course is Entirely Online

There’s nothing to be shipped, and no additional material is necessary. Bird Academy courses are online, self-paced, and never expire. You can return to them for reference or practice as often as you want. All course material, practice tools, instructional videos, and quizzes are available through your web browser. Learn anytime, anywhere*. Gain the skills and understanding you’re looking for.

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Course authors:
Lindsay Glasner
Jennifer Fee
Kelly Schaeffer
Technical support:
Mya Thomson

Case study authors:
Jennifer Stalls
Rebecca Whitson
Denise Humphries
Phil Kahler

Web design:
Jeff Szuc

Applications programmer:
Noah Warnke

Course reviewers:
Alexa Maille
Bill Million
Channa Comer
Jeff Manker
Karen Blyler
Lea Shell
Liz Goehring
Phil Kahler
Rebecca Whitson
Robin Ellwood
Sandra Henderson
Stacie Mann
Multimedia production:
Shayna Muller
Karen Rodriguez
Bill McQuay
Citizen Science Association
UC Davis
Bird Cams, Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Maumee Valley SOLVE Team

Images and media:
Alex Chang
Alicia Hanson
Anna Rettberg
Brittany Calderon
Denise Humphries
Erin Murtaugh
Jennifer Stalls
John Flannery
K-12 Education
Karen Garland
Kate Humason
Kelly Schaeffer
Lindsay Glasner
Lisa Moosbrugger
Lost Ladybug Project
Monarch Larva Monitoring Project
Next Generation Science Standards
Phil Kahler
Project BudBurst
Project FeederWatch
Stephen Maguire

Give the Gift of Learning

Gift certificates are a great way to give the bird enthusiasts in your life something that supports and encourages their passion.

Learn About Gift Certificates