Creating Scientific Citizens through Citizen Science: Aligning Citizen Science with the New Zealand

Thom Adams is the program coordinator at Curious Minds Taranaki and currently pursuing a Master of Education at Victoria University of Wellington. His research interests lie in schools’ outreach and participatory science. He recently completed a literature review on the alignment of Citizen Science projects with the New Zealand curriculum. We present a summary of his findings below.

With the decline in achievement and engagement in science in schools come calls to increase the use of relevant contexts and authentic learning experiences. New strategies for engaging students in science must be explored and Thom argues that citizen science may present a golden opportunity. His research shows citizen science aligns well with the New Zealand Curriculum and can contribute significantly to the development of scientific skills and perspectives necessary for engaged, lifelong learning.(1,2)

What exactly is Citizen Science?

Citizen science research involves professional science researchers and members of the public, but it can take several forms.(3) This can range from a passive partnership, where researchers use the public to crowd-source data, or active, where researchers are personally engaged with the participants.(4,5) Participation in citizen science may take place in person, online, or as a combination of both.(3,5,6)

Examples of Citizen Science projects in Aotearoa include: The Great Kereru Count, iNaturalist, Marine Meter Squared, Soil Safe Aotearoa and Curious Minds Participatory Science Platform.

Citizen Science and the New Zealand Curriculum

A literature analysis identified two key alignments between citizen science and the New Zealand Curriculum.(6) The first is with the Nature of Science strand of the science learning area and the five science capabilities.(6,7) The second is with the overall vision statement of the NZC itself.(6)

Nature of Science and the Science Capabilities

With the Nature of Science strand, there is a clear focus on the development of science skills and attitudes throughout the New Zealand science curriculum.(6) Students learn about what science is, and how scientific knowledge is created.(6) This has been further emphasised by the later addition of the five science capabilities which are intended to connect the content strands of the science learning area to the Nature of Science strand and provide guidance for teachers as they plan their curriculum.(6,7) As might be expected, the literature provides strong evidence for the alignment of citizen science with these ideas.

Ruiz-Mallen et al. present an example of a co-created citizen science project where students worked with researchers to investigate the effect of classroom wall colour on academic performance.(8) This project was carried out over the course of three years, with regular engagement between students and scientists. Students demonstrated an increased understanding of neuroscientific concepts, methodologies, and the wider role of science in society.

Interestingly, many of the scientific concepts the students covered in the project, such as sampling and experiment design, had been previously introduced in class. However, it was only when real examples were used by scientists that the meanings of these concepts were fully understood.(8) This demonstrates a function of citizen science in providing external content experts to enable students to consolidate their understanding using real-world contexts that may not have been made available to them through their teacher. (9,10)

NZ Curriculum Vision Statement

A strength of citizen science is in its capacity to shape students’ perspectives of their role in science at a global level. The sense of being involved in research with clear goals can strengthen the identity of students as “responsible citizens in a society in which science plays a significant role” as described in the NZC.(6)

With the advent of online citizen science projects such as those available through Zooniverse and iNaturalist, students have the opportunity to meaningfully participate in global initiatives.(3,11,12) To add a local flavour, teachers can then guide students to consider how the global issues they investigate through online citizen science may have relevance to them and their community.(12)

How Citizen Science could be implemented in the New Zealand Curriculum

In principle, the New Zealand Curriculum and its emphasis on inquiry-based learning is a natural fit for citizen science.

However, the effective integration of citizen science into the curriculum can only be achieved through well-supported, confident teaching staff. Much depends on teachers self-efficacy, access to projects, and the time and resources available. To ensure effective and equitable access, citizen science in schools may need to be supported through external facilitation, such as with initiatives like the Participatory Science Platform, and by making online citizen science more visible to teachers as a valuable resource with which to engage students with the curriculum.

For more information, you can read the full essay below or email Thom Adams at

Thom Adams - Citizen Science in the NZC
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1. Moeed, A., & Kaiser, S. (2018). Staying in science: Can understanding of the disciplinary connectedness of science help? Teaching Science (Deakin West, A.C.T.), 64(2), 45-50.

2. Shah, H. R., & Martinez, L. R. (2016). Current Approaches in Implementing Citizen Science in the Classroom. Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education, 17(1), 17-22.

3. Anderson, D., Buntting, C., & Coton, M. (2020). Using online citizen science to develop students’ science capabilities. Curriculum Matters(16), 38-59.

4. Bonney, R., Cooper, C. B., Dickinson, J., Kelling, S., Phillips, T., Rosenberg, K. V., & Shirk, J. (2009). Citizen Science: A Developing Tool for Expanding Science Knowledge and Scientific Literacy. Bioscience, 59(11), 977-984.

5. Shirk, J. L., Ballard, H. L., Wilderman, C. C., Phillips, T., Wiggins, A., Jordan, R., McCallie, E., Minarchek, M., Lewenstein, B. V., Krasny, M. E., & Bonney, R. (2012). Public Participation in Scientific Research: a Framework for Deliberate Design. Ecology and Society, 17(2), 29-29.

6. Ministry of Education. (2007). The New Zealand curriculum for English-medium teaching and learning in years 1-13. Learning Media for the Ministry of Education.

7. Hipkins, R. (2014). Unlocking the idea of 'capabilities' in science. NZ science teacher(133), 4-7.

8. Ruiz-Mallén, I., Riboli-Sasco, L., Ribrault, C., Heras, M., Laguna, D., & Perié, L. (2016). Citizen Science: Toward Transformative Learning. Science Communication, 38(4), 523-534.

9. Dewey, J. (1902). The Child and the Curriculum. Project Gutenberg.

10. Vygotsky, L. S., & Cole, M. (1978). Mind in society. Development of higher psychological processes. Harvard University Press.

11. Chen, J., & Cowie, B. (2013). Developing ‘Butterfly Warriors’: a Case Study of Science for Citizenship. Research in Science Education, 43(6), 2153-2177.

12. Pierson, C. M. (2020). Developing science capabilities for citizenship through participation in Online Citizen Science (OCS) projects. Set: Research Information for Teachers(1), 19-26.