Benefits of Trusting Youth as Scientists

A review of Ballard (2017)

Growing up in 4-H, I saw myself as a real scientist. I took water quality samples for LakeWatch, informed fellow 4-H youth about deadly amoeba in Florida lakes, and used bug collections to determine water quality. These contributions may be negligible in the grand scheme of ecological monitoring, research communication, and scientific exploration, but I was performing real science.

Above: Dip Net to take samples of bugs at a creek

Volunteer Opportunities for Scientists

Some of us are familiar with community groups directed towards providing data for conservation science. Various volunteer programs through non-profit (ie: Nature Conservancy) and government (ie: Florida Fish and Wildlife) organizations enable citizens to participate in restoration projects and outreach, while learning about conservation. In some cases, volunteers can even assist in data collection and monitoring (ie: water monitoring via LakeWatch and The Christmas Bird Count via Audubon). These programs are typically advertised to adults; however, according to a recent report by Ballard et al. (2017), youth-focused conservation programs can yield even higher quality data! (van der Velde et al., 2017)

Need for Youth Conservation Scientists

Youth conservation programs provide a diversity of substantial benefits to conservation action and education. Ballard et al. (2017) found that the extent to which the youth engaged in science was highly dependent on whether they saw the science they were doing as authentic or “real”. When youth see that they are doing real science, they take on a sense of responsibility as a real scientist. This is what increases interest in STEM and future technological and sustainable advancement. When youth work to collect “real” scientific data, they saw 3 components of environmental scientific action.

Above: 3 components of environmental scientific action in youth-focused conservation science programming.

  • They LEARNED scientific skills, such as how to collect, analyze, and explain/present data
  • They RECOGNIZED themselves as leaders, scientists, and agents for change
  • They USED their skills to restore, monitor, and improve their world

The benefits of these 3 components multiply upon each other in a feedback loop.

Where Does it Start?

When our programmatic goals include learning + action, we need to think of programs that will enable youth to do real science. Because they really can.

Above: Tiered STEM programming relationship chart.

What can we do?

  • Detect, support, and provide youth programming that focuses on doing science that involves more than just learning… have youth DO meaningful science whenever possible.
  • Make sure youth understand the implications of their actions: How their work impacts the world and how each person is an agent of change