Case Study

Community & Citizen Science in Kindergarden

Carrie Strohl, PhD

The School Garden Doctor


This case invites students as young as kindergarten to be community and citizen scientists. When young children learn language alongside the practices of science, they identify as scientific thinkers. In the lesson, students become conservation scientists who learn to count bees so they can make recommendations for flowers that attract bees to the school garden.

Case Narrative

Several years ago, the staff at Pueblo Vista Environmental Science/Dual Immersion (Spanish) Magnet school had the opportunity to participate as a site in a place-based community and citizen science (CCS) research study. One outcome of that opportunity was that the researchers developed a case of student participation in a school garden focused on The Lost Ladybug Project. However, there were so many other outcomes not formally documented in that specific research case.

Alongside the implementation of the third grade “ladybug case,” three kindergarten teachers embarked on their own engagement with another CCS project: The Great Sunflower Project. In my role as science curriculum specialist, I coached teachers to use what they learned about native bee classification and bee anatomy to expand, deepen, and authenticate their unit of study focused on bees as pollinators.

This case presents the lesson that was developed to address the perceived gap in very young students' ability to participate in CCS. Namely, researchers disbelieved that five- or six-year old students could:

  1. accurately identify a specific type of bee;

  2. attend to a task long enough to make observations of bees; and

  3. scientifically record data to use as evidence.

In this lesson, kindergarten students take on the role of conservation scientists to ask and answer questions related to what kinds of flowers attract bees to our school garden (and what kind of flowers the bees “like” best).

After several years of implementing the bee unit and the Kinders Can Count...Bees lesson, I have gathered evidence that supports that kindergarteners can, in fact, use CCS to contribute to “real” science in multiple ways. Not only can they accomplish the stated objectives of the lesson (i.e., focus attention, draw flowers/circle count bees, and record their data), they also can share their findings in writing and present authoritatively about why bee conservation is important.

The value of this lesson and case lies in its interdisciplinary perspective. From an agricultural perspective, honey bee conservation is typically elevated by the economic service they provide to the agricultural industry nation-wide, which often overlooks the human-created conditions that have led to (honey) bee decline. From an ecological perspective, bees (especially native bees) provide important functions in an ecosystem (i.e., pollination services) that enable life to continue for the native plants with which they coevolved. This reinforces the linguistic perspective that highlights the relationship between ecoregional people and places in that it offers the potential to introduce young learners to the ideas of native/non-native, which inherently links past, present, and, from a conservation perspective, future.

Lesson: Kinders Can Count...Bees

Next Generation Science Standards K-ESS3-3. Communicate solutions that will reduce the impact of humans on the land, water, air, and/or other living things in the local environment.
This lesson was created to model the bee counting process for very young students in the context of a unit about pollinators. It was developed to demonstrate that kindergartners can authentically contribute to community and citizen science. The primary motivation for this particular lesson and the associated student materials was to sustain the practice of place-based scientific investigation regardless of what teachers were teaching the grade level from year to year, as well as embed a more authentic and coherent purpose for pollinator study. Finally, the unit in which this specific lesson is taught culminates in a schoolwide showcase to celebrate pollinator conservation, which creates a legitimate reason to become experts and share their learning with the community.
This lesson would best be used in the context of a coherent sequence of science investigation related to pollinators. The unit into which the lesson is embedded was designed to integrate literacy (reading, writing, listening/speaking, viewing), hands-on science investigation (observing specimens under a microscope, sketching), and gardening (role playing beekeepers, flower identification, and bee counting).
Although the lesson can be implemented in a stand-alone way, the language demands of making explanations about what kind of flowers attract bees are better supported with a literacy-rich indoor/outdoor classroom environment. At the very least, I recommend introducing this lesson over multiple days, starting with an introduction of why counting bees might be useful as a conservation scientist and ending with talk about what was learned from the experience.

Regarding The Great Sunflower Project: setting up an account and reporting data is a little more daunting and can only be done by an adult. This underscores the limitations to “citizen” science in that the procedures for submitting “real” observations are often designed by and for scientists, not the community. I found that teachers didn’t really need to bother with the data in order for kindergarten students to be engaged. Just the idea that they ARE the scientists is enough.
Kinders Can Count Bees_Lesson_7.13.20

Kinds Can Count...Bees Lesson Plan

Video: What does a honey bee look like?

This video shows the parts of the bee. It could be used to introduce, review, or check the main parts of a honey bee.

Ecoregion School Garden Site

Who are the students?All of the families at this site elect to embrace a bilingual setting with a curricular emphasis on environmental science. About 50% of the students are bilingual or bicultural in the home (i.e., parents come from both English-dominant and Spanish-dominant backgrounds). About 50% of students qualify for free and reduced priced lunch, which is the average in the school district. The community is predominantly white and Latinx, but this school site has students from many other linguistic, racial, and ethnic heritages.
Who are the garden leaders?The school garden is overseen by a committee of 5 teachers with contracted “extra duty” dedicated to embedding garden-based science teaching.
The community the school serves and its history.Historically, this school site had the lowest test scores in the district of 8,000 elementary (K-5) aged students. After five years of a federally funded magnet school reform, the school was recognized as a CA Distinguished School award for closing the achievement gap between subgroups of students.
Other School ContextsThis lesson has also been used in afterschool settings as well as in schools in Sonoma County, where it was shared as part of a teacher professional learning opportunity.

Pueblo Vista Magnet School

Connections to Ecoregion Topics

Place-Based Learning capitalizes on the natural spaces in which students interact: pollinators and plants are interdependent; many food crops rely on pollinators; pollinator life cycles vary seasonally and timing has shifted due to climate change. Read about bee resilience here. This lesson can also work in many different contexts because of the wide range of bees and their importance both locally and globally.
Traditional Ecological Knowledge may, at times, seem to run counter to the dominant “scientific” perspective adopted by the academy, thus overlooking historical and ecological relationships with pollinators. The appropriation of indigenous perspectives in legal protections or policy initiatives in the US (e.g., made a national priority in 2008) may occur without acknowledgement or credit to that ecological knowledge.
Culturally Responsive Pedagogy invites and builds on students’ prior knowledge and experiences: Students may not know the difference between a bee and another kind of insect, like a fly. They also may not be exposed to bees other than honey bees. Some students may be afraid of bees, while others may have experienced beekeepers in their families. Many people confuse bees and other stinging/biting insects (e.g., wasps, yellow jackets) which results in home models that are insect averse. This lesson positions bees as important members of an ecosystem and students as conservation scientists.
Designing for Science Teaching involves authentic opportunities for practice-based engagement with complex ideas. Framing the question as, What kinds of flowers attract bees?, may represent a new way of thinking about the language of science for kindergarten teachers. Scientific sketching offers a discipline-specific way to use a developmentally appropriate tool for recording observations. Multimodal lessons before and after a garden observation help students develop coherent ideas.

Conference Archive Video

Demonstration Lesson by Carrie Strohl

Conference Notes