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  • You're the Scientist
    Verifying Data Collected by Peers

    Background
    As part of Journey North's Internet Field Team your students will collect backyard observations this spring and share them with classrooms across North America. Student observers expand the eyes and ears of scientists in ways never possible before. However, in order for the results to be valid, we must be able to trust the accuracy of these observations.

    In the scientific community there is a formal review process through which scientists present and defend their findings to colleagues. Scientists write about their research in scientific journals. They speak before an audience of peers at scientific conferences. If a scientist were to make an unusual or unexpected finding about a migratory species, for example, the scientist would be expected to provide a photograph or write a thorough and convincing description of what was observed.

    Give your students responsiblity for validating data collected through Journey North. Minnesota teacher Jim Hateli did this last spring. His second grade students were confused about an early monarch sighting in New Jersey. They decided that it had to be a mistake! What to do? They questioned the reliability of the observation, but discovered that the New Jersey sighting was made by an expert naturalist. They decided to trust its accuracy. During the scientific process all information should be scruitinized and verified--even that from primary sources!

    Activity
    1. Discuss the concept of using student observations in Journey North this spring. Ask students to list all the benefits of collecting reports from Internet classmates . What drawbacks might there be? Have students list the criteria that they will use to determine the accuracy of the reports.

    2. The reports below were submitted during the spring of 1995. Have students listen for information that sets off red flags! Make a list of some of the questions that should be asked to verify accuracy. For example, "Who is the observer and what is his level of experience?", "How regularly was the observer watching for monarchs before reporting the first monarch in the region?" "Does the observer know what a monarch looks like?" or "Can she tell the difference between a viceroy and a monarch butterfly?"

    Review these messages that were sent to Journey North in 1995:

    • A kindergardener in Minneseota reported a sighting of 500 monarchs in Minnesota in February. The kindergarden teacher said her students were just learning to identify monarchs at the time.
    • On April 9th, a monarch was reported in New Jersey. Other monarchs reported at the time were in Georgia, Alabama, Kansas and Missouri. The New Jersey report was sent by a naturalist who tags hundreds of monarchs each fall.
    • A student in College Station, Texas reported seeing the first monarch in his town on May 20th. Many monarchs had already been reported in Texas in March and April.
    • A New York student was on vacation in Florida for a few days in April. She reported sighting the first monarch there.

    3. As migration updates arrive this spring, read them carefully for clues about the quality of each observation. Analyze the data carefully to see whether new observations fit established patterns. If you should doubt an observation be sure to question the observer directly. The E-mail address will be included with all observations for this purpose. Take this opportunity to teach your students how collaboration works in the scientific community.

    Discussion
    1. Do you trust all of the observations reported above? Why or why not?

    2. How do you decide when you can trust information? Do you put more confidence in certain books? Newspapers? People? Discuss the criteria you use.

    3. Interview adults and ask them how they judge the reliability of information sources.