It’s Spring! Celebrate with Citizen Science

Date: April 9, 2018 Author: EcoSpark Categories: Latest
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School Watch: Green Spaces as Learning Places

This Spring EcoSpark is launching a new project called School Watch: Green Spaces as Learning Places. School Watch allows students to contribute meaningful citizen science data while learning about ecosystem health and positive actions in the community. To celebrate Spring, try the native plant activity (below) featured in School Watch!FlowerDiagramNatureWatch2018.jpg

Diagram of flower parts (NatureWatch 2018).

School Watch helps teachers animate school ground green space with online guides and training. Students will identify pollinators, map wildlife habitat, and more, right outside their schools. The School Watch toolkit will launch on www.ecospark.ca for Citizen Science Day (April 14, 2018).

In this activity by PlantWatch, you’ll observe native plants as they begin to bloom in your neighbourhood or school grounds. These records are an important source of information for studying plant timing in a changing climate. Researchers even publish papers using citizen science data about plants!

Monitor Native Plants

  1. Choose a Plant, preferably before it blooms, that will be easy for you to observe often. EcoSpark suggests Red Maple, which is common on school grounds, blooms by mid-April (see photo), and can then be observed for first leaves. Start looking now for Common Purple Lilac to watch in May and June. Visit PlantWatch for more plant info and data sheets.
  2. Register for a free account with PlantWatch. After you register, name a unique observation location with “ES…” to be part of EcoSpark’s citizen science network. For example, “ES SunnySchoolGarden”. If every EcoSpark reader contributes at least one plant observation, we can cover the map with a flowering of citizen science activity!
  3. Watch Your Plant! As the buds swell, observe daily until 3 buds burst into flower. Note the date and temperature on your data sheet. Then you'll watch for 50% bloom and first unfurled leaves.
  4. Submit your Observations to PlantWatch online. The map and data download features show how local bloom times compare from year to year.
  5. Keep Watching as plants all around reach blooming milestones! Teacher Tip: PlantWatch has curriculum-linked resources and activities for science, mathematics, social studies, and language arts.

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Red Maple blossoms and leaf, by R. Martel (NatureWatch 2018).

Red Maple buds are tiny red nubs on the ends of twigs that bloom before the tree gets its leaves. The year’s first bumble bees will visit this early flower food source! If you see any, check out bumblebeewatch.org for more citizen science fun.

Teacher Training Workshops

Registration is open for EcoSpark’s School Watch free training workshops where teachers learn how to lead citizen science projects with grade 6-12 students on school grounds. At teacher* workshops, we provide: 

  • Hands-on resources for animating school ground greening projects
  • Exposure to and training on different kinds of citizen science projects
  • Follow-up staff support to plan and co-lead an outdoor education lesson with EcoSpark
  • Opportunities to earn points towards EcoSchools certification!

*While designed for teachers at Markham EcoSchools, workshops are suitable for anyone interested in connecting kids with outdoor education, space permitting.


PlantWatch is operated under NatureWatch, a partnership between the geography departments of Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Ottawa, Nature Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation, the Toronto Zoo, and the University of Ottawa’s Centre for e-Learning. PlantWatch information used with permission.

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School Watch is generously supported by TD Friends of the Environment Foundation.

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