Girls Learn Citizen Science by Hosting an Ant Picnic

Contributed by Claire LaBeaux

“We had a picnic for the ants,” exclaimed Mia, an excited six-year-old Daisy who recently completed her first citizen science research for a Girl Scouts / SciStarter project. “We made them food to eat to see what they liked most. We gave them salt, protein, water, sugar, cookies – oh, and oil."Girls prepping the bait

Her friend Mackenzie said, “They liked the cookie the best!” Starting with something as simple as an ant picnic, Girl Scouts across the country are learning how scientists do their work: methodically completing experiments, making observations, and logging data about every factor to build a body of relevant facts.

What’s especially exciting for the girls is that they aren’t just mimicking the work of scientists; they are contributing useful information to actual research; in this case, helping scientists at North Carolina State University with their research on what ants live where and what type of food ants prefer to eat.

It’s all part of the Girl Scouts’ new “Think Like a Citizen Scientist” series developed with SciStarter specifically to draw girls into the excitement of authentic scientific discovery. Citizen science is growing in popularity and credibility, as everyday people augment the work of scientists both by participating in informal recreational activities and by performing careful, formal research.

For Girl Scouts, the “Think Like a Citizen Scientist” series begins in the troop and online with SciStarter. Troops can select from 40 projects and research groups. The girls learn how to collect and analyze data, and after they complete the project(s) through SciStarter, the troop decides how to take action to identify and address a related problem. They come up with a creative and sustainable solution, put a team plan into action, and document their project on SciStarter. Girls earn two awards for completing the series: the Think Like a Citizen Scientist award and the Take Action award.

“This Girl Scout series is innovative and has the power to transform the way citizen science gets done. It inspires and supports girls to not only do citizen science, but also importantly to take action to make their efforts sustainable,” said Darlene Cavalier, Founder of SciStarter and Professor of Practice at Arizona State University. “We hope that other organizations will see the enthusiasm of Girl Scouts and recognize how easy it is to use SciStarter to help their members engage in meaningful science.”ants eating cookie

If the experience of this Daisy Troop in New York is any indication, citizen science projects are an excellent way to set girls on the path to enthusiasm and discovery in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Troop member Evelyn proudly showed off the picture of her troop, and in her raspy six-year-old voice, said, “That’s us with our troop making observations about the ant picnic. Sophia B. was looking and noticed none of the ants were eating any of the cookies (that were placed on top of small cards). But then, she lifted up the cards and there were a bunch of ants underneath carrying the cookies.”

Girls discussing dataSophia said her favorite part of the picnic was “collecting data and writing it down in our books.”

Troop leader Donna Hager is the mom of twin girls in the Daisy Troop. She is also a Board Certified Environmental Engineer and the founder and CEO of Macan Dave Engineers in New York City. “As a society, our tools and our toys are getting more technical and more complicated, fueling incredible demand for STEM-literate workers over the next few decades. Girls and boys are equally capable of filling those jobs, but historically far more boys have pursued education in sciences.

“I love that my girls are able to experience the fun of scientific exploration at a young age, and to put that fun into the context of real research. Whatever education and career paths they follow, I know that they’ll benefit from this citizen science experience they’ve had as Girl Scouts.”

Girls (and boys) of all ages can participate in citizen science, ranging from the ant picnic that this Daisy troop hosted, to a Stream Selfie project that documents the health of local streams, to observations of clouds and mosquitos to support NASA research. Girl Scouts have their own portal to complete selected work, and anyone can sign up for projects at SciStarter.com. There are hundreds of scientists and projects, and thousands of people are needed to support their work.

It’s never too early for kids to start doing citizen science. As six-year-old Evelyn says, “We are Daisy scientists!”