SciStarter

Website review by
Jeff Knutson, Common Sense Media
SciStarter Website Poster Image
Citizen-science database has clunky search, info concerns.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this website.

Educational Value

Kids can learn about scientific research, from identifying ladybugs to measuring rainfall to matching whale calls to analyzing digital cancer cell images, by joining in. These aren't simulations; these are full-fledged research projects relying on the input of citizens (kids, too!) across the country and world. SciStarter can help connect families to these projects, expanding kids' ideas about professional fields, science practices, and specific techniques and topics. Still, with a less-than-ideal search engine, your best bet is to search by keyword ("bee," "barrier reef") and employ a careful family review to figure out if the project is a match for your kid. SciStarter provides fun methods to get young kids interested in the basics of science and scientific research in an approachable, hands-on way.

Positive Messages

Kids contribute to scientific research, help expand knowledge, understanding. Sheer quantity of projects should bolster kids' perspective on how many science do-gooders are out there.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that SciStarter can help get kids of all ages engaged in current science adventures, but younger kids will need parental support selecting projects and executing tasks. Also, some projects aren't designed for youth participation -- you can quickly check the "Appropriate for kids" line but will still want to read through each project's website carefully. Though a user account isn't required for use, many projects will require personal information as well as the user's location to access the science project, raising significant security and privacy concerns.

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What's it about?

SCISTARTER is a database of citizen-science projects, some of which may work with kids at home. The "project finder" provides choices by activity (a hike) or topic (birds). Results are provided in one long list of brief project descriptions, synopses, and specifics. Links inside each project will take you to the external websites for more information and opportunities to join in.

Is it any good?

Citizen-science projects are an authentic avenue for kids of all ages to truly engage in scientific practices. SciStarter is a massive database of new and ongoing projects, many of which will be exciting, interesting, and relevant. That means learning everything from measuring rainfall to analyzing cancer cells -- all of which can help contribute to real research projects around the world. The largest hang-up for families, and the biggest detriment to the site, is having to find kid- and age-appropriate projects that you can join. The site doesn't provide a search option for age, doesn't list what could be learned by contributing to a project, and does very little in trying to explain the pros or cons of a project. Not only does the site have a poorly executed search function, it also doesn't appear to check every project carefully. As a result, though SciStarter provides a good service in giving kids and families who are interested in science a way to contribute to research projects, it's definitely a resource to be used with parental oversight.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how science researchers rely on everyday citizens (and kids!) to help collect and share information. Choose a project to get involved in together.

  • Discuss the enormous quantities of data that are being collected today and how scientists and researchers need help analyzing and sorting it.

  • Families can choose a local ecosystem or watershed, brainstorming lifestyle choices that will improve sustainability and preserve quality.

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