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Elementary students become citizen scientists in campus BioBlitz

Sep 27, 2023
A woman holds binoculars in front of a group of children
A woman holds binoculars in front of a group of children

KOKOMO, Ind. — It may have looked like the children visiting Indiana University Kokomo were just playing as they ran through the meadow on the north side of campus, picking up leaves and chasing bugs.

But they were actually engaged in citizen science, gathering data about the plants and animals that live on campus.

The Office of Sustainability partnered with the Howard County Stormwater District to host 75 fourth and fifth graders from Sts. Joan of Arc and Patrick School Thursday (September 21) for a BioBlitz.

Andy Tuholski, assistant professor of political science and sustainability director, said the event focuses on finding and identifying as many species as possible in a specific area, over a short period of time.

“We’re teaching them about the nature all around us, if you just stop and look around,” he said, adding that they used an app called iNaturalist to record their findings. They upload the data to the app, where it becomes part of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, an open-source database used by scientists and policy makers around the world.

“The information they are finding today will be used to inform what kind of species we have in our area,” he said. “They are making connections to nature and contributing data that will be useful to people who manage our natural resources. Hopefully this will develop a lifelong love of nature for them.”

The session began inside with presentations by Leda Casey, teaching professor of geology, and Michael Finkler, professor of physiology, who talked about the importance of soil, Indiana’s geological history, and what plant and animal species they might expect to find locally.

Then, students moved to the meadow down the hill from the Kelley House, where they rotated among stations led by faculty and volunteers from the Student Sustainability Council and the Howard County Stormwater District. Hands-on activities included finding and identifying plant species, netting, observing, and identifying bugs, using binoculars to look at birds and other wildlife, and playing a game to learn about how animals adapt to their environments.

Fifth grade teacher Pam Gilbody said students enjoy being able to learn outside.

“The more kids are outside, the more they are engaged, the more they learn, so this is perfect,” she said. “This allows them to see how we’re all connected. We build on the soil, and then everything comes from the soil.”

IU Kokomo alumna Megan Moss, field technician for the stormwater district, said the BioBlitz gives students a chance to learn about their environment by doing, noting that they are contributing to scientific knowledge.

“One of the volunteers found a southern two-lined salamander,” she said. “I don’t know that they’ve been recorded as living in Howard County, so that will be a good find. This is making students aware of the wildlife we have all around us.”

She hopes they gained an appreciation for the world around them, and a sense of why conservation is important.

“They are having fun and learning about the outdoors, which is invaluable,” Moss said. “Hopefully they will continue to do things like this and look around and see how wonderful and beautiful our world is, and be inspired to take care of it.”

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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