Citizen Science Become a citizen scientist in your own back yard. activity for grades Pre-K-12

Citizen Science

Citizen science can lead humans to interact with the natural world to appreciate nature and animals and then want to protect both in all ecosystems (Polegatto, 2020).

What does “citizen science” mean? - It is when citizens/people of the public–just like you and me–participate in "real scientific research" including anything big or small, inside and outside, and can be as high or low tech, or even no tech (National Geographic Education Staff, 2020).

People often think of biodiversity (nature and animals) as being in the environment of a forest or large open spaces. But, both nature and animals can be found inside your house or in your own backyard? How exciting is that?

Citizen science can be done from inside your home by looking around your home or by looking out a window (National Geographic Education Staff, 2020).

For purposes of this activity you will go no further than your backyard so go outside on your patio, balcony, or backyard and look up, down and all around you in all directions. You can view beyond your yard. Maybe you can see another yard or as far as a view of the whole street or town or the water!

Citizen science is done by citizens who are curious about science and biodiversity by exploring areas that are safe to do so and in accordance with current government and health guidelines (National Geographic Education Staff, 2020).

There are lots of examples of nature and animals around us everyday, such as:


  • Have you ever found a spider or a fly inside your house?
  • Do you have plants and flowers in your home?
  • Do you have a fish tank in your home or other animals?
  • Are you growing seedlings in your home to plant outside later?
  • Can you see nature from a window at your house?
  • Do you have a pet?


  • Have you seen squirrels, cats, dogs, hedgehogs, mice or racoons in your yard?
  • Are there plants, flowers, trees or food growing in your garden/yard or sprouting for spring?
  • Grass growing around your home?
  • Have you seen birds, bees or butterflies flying around or past your home?
  • Do you have a pond or water source in your back yard, ie bird feeder
  • Think of what lives in the ground, ie worms, insects
  • Is your backyard on the water, ie: lake, river, ocean? There are many species you may see there from tiny organisms to large animals like whales!

Nature and animals live in many ecosystems in the environment. What is an ecosystem? (see the Glossary below for this and other definitions). For this activity we will refer to three ecosystems:

  • Air
  • Land
  • Water
Air (left), Land (middle), Water (right)


Materials needed:

  • Notebook and pencil to take notes
  • Camera or phone to take pictures or a video
  • Hat, rubber boots, jacket, gloves, dress appropriately for your weather
  • Optional: small shovel or tool to dig in the ground
  • For younger students, take at least one parent with you
  • Don't forget to take your dog along with you, they make great citizen scientists (and you can count your dog as an animal in your report)


Option 1: Inside or Outside Citizen Science

Animals and nature depend on clean and healthy environments to live in just like we do. They live in the trees, plants, soil and often they go unnoticed when we walk past them.

  1. Get ready to go outside, dress appropriately for your weather outside
  2. Think about looking around your yard in all ecosystems, ie air, land, water
  3. Search for any species or plants, ie large or tiny that live in your yard
  4. Take pictures of what you find or draw what you see or take a video of it or draw a map of where you found it in your yard (no pictures of your faces, but you can have pictures of side profile or back of head or I can blur your face when I submit it) but I need pictures that show you in the photos to prove you did the activity.
  5. Use the National Geographic Interactive Map to show your location.
  6. For animals: write in your note book what the species is doing, ie walking, squiggling around, moving, flying, swimming, jumping, running, etc
  7. For nature: take pictures or write in your notebook what your findings looks like. You can also include the name of it, what color it is, does it have leaves, flowers, etc.
  8. Optional: As a citizen scientist, think about your species or nature and how it lives in the same environment as you do. Write in your notebook things such as what does it eat, were you surprised at what your found, tell your story of how you found it, what was the weather like, what was the season of the year, how many different species or plants did you find, what was your favorite finding, how does the animal or nature interact with humans?
  9. Optional: Find an organization you can submit at least one of your findings to, ie iNaturalist, ebird or other or use an app to identify your finding such as Merlin Bird ID App or Seek App.
  10. Complete the Free UN75 Survey to let the United Nations know what you want them to concentrate on in the future, ie protecting ecosystem findings like you have discovered in your exploring.
  11. Optional: you can provide a poem, song or quote from your experience or write your own or draw a picture of your adventure or use your imagination on how you want to do your report.
  12. Now for the exciting part: Go start exploring and have fun!

Option 2: Inside Citizen Science. Plastics barely degrade and are hazardous to nature and animals who can ingest them thinking the plastic is food (Polegatto, 2020). We can be amazed at the amount of plastic we accumulate or discard of each day.

Over our lifetime, we can each throw away nearly 15 tons of packaging that ends up in the oceans, much of it being plastic, that breaks down into pieces that are called “nurdles” or “mermaid tears” that make their way into the food chain and can harm wildlife (National Geographic Society, 2015) and also humans.

Did you know plastics are harmful to nature, animals and humans in all ecosystems? You can see more information about the harmful effects of plastics here in Module 10 (Pollution: Cleaning Up The Planet) of Deep Dive Into The Ocean Ecosystem With The Giants (Polegatto, 2020).

  • Stay inside and search for plastic items in your own home that will eventually end up outside in nature negatively affecting nature and animals.
  • Count the number of plastic items in your house or even just in a room in your house.
  • How many plastics are single use plastics that will go into the trash, ie plastic wrappers?
  • How many plastic items will be reused, ie: bowls, cups, plates?
  • Take pictures, video or do a drawing of some of the items or use your imagination on how you want to show what you found (no pictures of your faces, but you can have pictures of side profile or back of head or I can blur your face when I submit it) but I need pictures that show you in the photos to prove you did the activity.
  • As a citizen scientist, thinks of ways you could reuse the plastic trash. Could you use the plastics to start seedlings for plants, use them to store items in, use them to make something with? Be creative!
  • Is there another more sustainable item you could have used instead, ie bamboo toothbrush instead of plastic?
  • Do the UN75 Free short survey and let the United Nations know your thoughts on plastic waste.
  • Now for the exciting part: Go start exploring and have fun!

What to do next?

  1. Submit your feedback below, ie: pictures, drawings, video, map, etc, below. Keep it simple, no need to make it complicated, a picture of your hand written notes, drawings, etc. is fine (that's what citizen scientists refer to as field notes).
  2. How many different species of nature and animals did you see on your citizen science activity? Or, what was your plastic counts?
  3. Did you do the Free UN75 Survey?
  4. Did you submit any findings to an organization?
  5. Where the Apps helpful?
  6. Do you now have a better understanding of how nature and animals interact with humans? Or, do you see the impact plastics have?
  7. Most importantly, did you have fun?


I'm excited to see, see and learn what you found. I love doing citizen science and find everyday even the same ecosystems change.

Your feedback will be used by National Geographic Mentors for viewing for the National Geographic course I am taking. Thank you for helping me help more people in the future with more education.

Did you enjoy this learning experience? I hope you continue to explore ecosystems and learn more about nature and animals. Nature and animals are very interesting and important to help keep our ecosystems healthy (Polegatto, 2020).

For more information on citizen science, you can view: Module 11: Citizen Science


  • Biodiversity - "biological diversity in an environment as indicated by numbers of different species of plants and animals" (Dictionary by Merriam-Webster: America's most-trusted online dictionary, n.d.)
  • Citizen - "an inhabitant of a city or town" (Dictionary by Merriam-Webster: America's most-trusted online dictionary, n.d.)
  • Ecosystem - "the complex of a community of organisms and its environment functioning as an ecological unit" (Dictionary by Merriam-Webster: America's most-trusted online dictionary, n.d.)
  • Environment - "the circumstances, objects, or conditions by which one is surrounded" (Dictionary by Merriam-Webster: America's most-trusted online dictionary, n.d.)
  • Fieldnotes - "an item in a systematic record of the measurements made by a surveyor or the observations of a researcher in the field" (Dictionary by Merriam-Webster: America's most-trusted online dictionary, n.d.)
  • Plastic - "any of numerous organic synthetic or processed materials that are mostly thermoplastic or thermosetting polymers of high molecular weight and that can be made into objects, films, or filaments" (Dictionary by Merriam-Webster: America's most-trusted online dictionary, n.d.)
  • Scientist - "a person learned in science and especially natural science : a scientific investigator" (Dictionary by Merriam-Webster: America's most-trusted online dictionary, n.d.)
  • Species - "a class of individuals having common attributes and designated by a common name" (Dictionary by Merriam-Webster: America's most-trusted online dictionary, n.d.)


Created By
Maria Lisa Polegatto


Created with images by Ben Ashby - "untitled image" • Thom Holmes - "untitled image" • Chunlea Ju - "untitled image" • Nathalie SPEHNER - "untitled image" • Kelly Sikkema - "Kids looking outside at the world. Stuck inside during a pandemic quarantine. " • Mick Haupt - "Needing to get outside as the quarantine starts, we turned on the sprinklers and got soaked. Trying to make the most of Coronavirus quarantine." • William Daigneault - "untitled image" • Sven Brandsma - "untitled image" • Julián Gentilezza - "Lost in Temperley" • www.zanda. photography - "My mum’s tomatoes" • Martin Kníže - "Flowering garden bushes" • Tim Mossholder - "Global Beta" • Fabian Stroobants - "untitled image" • Ehud Neuhaus - "untitled image" • Clark Van Der Beken - "Picturesque daisies." • Gary Bendig - "Mother apparently not available, this one of two was crossing a road in a park." • Taneli Lahtinen - "Bird on a hand" • Ant Rozetsky - "untitled image" • Ugo ° - "untitled image" • Anastasia Taioglou - "Sunrise in Greece" • Jan Kahánek - "tabel day" • Viktor Talashuk - "Smartphone screen template in blue and pink" • Noah Buscher - "Midwest Trekking" • Kaufmann Mercantile - "A modern take on the traditional terra cotta planter. The sheen of polished brass makes this flowerpot the perfect place to showcase a special orchid or elevate a humble cactus. This clever vessel can be used as a cachepot (a decorative covering) by slipping a clay pot inside, or you can add soil directly inside." • Alexandru Rotariu - "I photographed this amazing dog in a small park. He was with his “master”, who was a little kid, not much bigger than his pet. The original photo was VERY unsightly, but I saw something amazing behind this “unsightness”. I took it home, passed it through Photoshop, and the result was a wonderful sight! It’s like I can see this ordinary animal’s personality! (If you want to see a before-and-after, check out http://rotalex.wixsite.com/photography/about at the end of the page) Eventually, I started a photo album named “Animal Close-Up’s”, this photo (Dog (close-up)), being Close-Up no. 1." • Todd Quackenbush - "Planted alone" • Jonathan Chng - "untitled image" • Syed Hussaini - "Assorted colour storage boxes for kitchen" • Ruth Alarcon - "untitled image" • Julian Hochgesang - "untitled image" • Julian Hochgesang - "untitled image" • Julian Hochgesang - "untitled image" • Wellington Ferreira - "untitled image" • Romain Vignes - "Focus definition" • Susan Yin - "untitled image"