Turning Citizens into Scientists


Beginning this term, IHS had decidedly taken steps to learn more about and participate in nationwide citizen science initiatives, so that students and faculty can contribute in real-time to scientific understanding and learning becomes more relevant.

During the first term, a group of interested teachers enrolled in a training facilitated by Mr. P Jeganathan of the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), during which time he introduced teachers to SeasonWatch and eBird.

SeasonWatch, a citizen science program initiated by Citizen Science Program of National Centre for Biological Sciences, encourages people to track the seasonal changes of trees in their vicinity over an extended period of time (at least a year), and thereby add to seasonal change data.  Mr. Jegan provided the big picture in regards to how their scientific contribution will make an impact and modelled the data collection procedure for students and facilitators. Data collection began last term during which time a committed group of students adopted a subset of trees considered to be representative / indicator species and observed them for 10 – 15 minutes on a weekly basis.

“It’s a wonderful way to be with nature. I love to observe my tree every week and I even have my own nick name for it,” shared MS student Sahana. “I feel that in some way I’m also contributing toward stopping global warming.”

There was also a felt need to bring birding back online, a once popular pastime of IHS students. Mr. Jegan stepped teachers through how to systematically record birding observations, noting down the time, location, type, species identified, and number of birds. Several sets of 8 x 40 binoculars were procured, as well as pocket guides of birds of peninsular India and flashcards of common Indian birds available through Early Bird -India, an NCF initiative.

The caveat was that before taking it to the students, first there must be a committed teacher birding group. Over the subsequent few weeks, teachers spent time noting down their sightings, and before they knew it, nearly 70 distinct species were identified within the campus. Mr. Sivakumar S., the lead for the IHS birding initiative, participated in the Tamil Nadu Birders Meet, and has enrolled in a 6-month Home Study Course on Ornithology offered by the Institute of Bird Studies and Natural History, Rishi Valley to further his understanding.

Over the last few weeks, birding has been opened up to interested middle schoolers, and IHS hopes to participate in the Pongal Bird Count and thereafter continue to submit ongoing lists to eBird India.

“For some people birdwatching might be boring and to some extent monotonous; but to me, watching birds is a fun-filled adventure that includes a thrill factor which never abates,” said MS student Anbu Damodaran. “When you spot one bird, you see another, then a different one. The excitement never stops!”

Another citizen science initiative that is presently being explored is the India Biodiversity Portal, in which individuals can upload data regarding the biodiversity of flora and fauna within their vicinity, and take support of experts in identification and mapping. Photography enthusiasts – both students and teachers – have already begun taking pictures of IHS flora.

IHS hopes that these pilot initiatives become a mainstay in the coming years, and that there are many more student citizen scientists.