By Eleanor M. Jaffee, Jennifer Bourgeault, Haley Wicklein, and Alicia Carlson
Youth in today’s world are experiencing the effects of climate change, decreasing biodiversity, urban heat islands, wildfires, low air quality, water shortages, and other environmental problems. They may feel helpless to respond to such large-scale challenges. Yet equipped with the right tools and supported by a scientific community, they can be empowered to take part in developing solutions. Studies have shown that students who engage in authentic research experiences (i.e., doing science as scientists do) are more likely to be engaged in their science learning (e.g., Beauchamp et al. 2022; Habig and Gupta 2021; Pruneau et al. 2003). Through the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) Program, students in 127 countries are conducting their own environmental research projects and sharing data they collect locally with other students and researchers throughout the world to better understand and respond to Earth’s changing climate. GLOBE is an international science and education program that offers an array of resources to support youth engagement in environmental science research, including data collection protocols developed by scientists, data sharing, mentorship, and educator professional development. It is sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) with support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the U.S. Department of State. Using GLOBE scientific protocols, students collect data in their local communities to enter into a public worldwide database. The data, shared with other students and scientists internationally, can be used by anyone to answer research questions about the environment.
All GLOBE student research projects can be published through the GLOBE website and showcased at the GLOBE International Virtual Science Symposium (IVSS). Students in the United States can also communicate their results with STEM professionals in person at the GLOBE Student Research Symposia (SRS). Recent GLOBE SRS student research project titles include, for example, Water Quality and Riparian Zone Survey of Alaska's Salcha River (Brannan and Baker 2023), Plastic Trash: Following the Trail from Land to Water (Mejia and Flores 2023), and Comparing Select Atmospheric Parameters Between Disparate Geographic Locations Using Collaboration Between Two GLOBE Schools (Baydoun et al. 2023). More student research projects from around the world can be viewed on the GLOBE website.
In this article, we describe the background and purpose of the SRS, and explain how educators and students engage with GLOBE to conduct their research projects and present the results at the Symposia. In addition, we profile the recent 2022 local SRS events, presenting the event characteristics, student outcomes, and educator and reviewer feedback. Finally, we share the cumulative lessons learned from all previous years of U.S. GLOBE programming and evaluation.
In 2016 the GLOBE U.S. Coordination Office held its first series of Student Research Symposia (SRS), initially funded by the NSF. These events were designed to bring students together from across each of six U.S. regions to discuss their research about their local environments with peers and STEM professionals and support the GLOBE vision “to better understand, sustain, and improve Earth's environment.” The overall goals of the events were to help students understand how to use the science practices and conduct research investigations (National Research Council 2012; NGSS Lead States 2013), effectively communicate findings in collaborative settings, and have genuine interactions with STEM professionals to promote their science self-efficacy and identity (e.g., their sense that “I can do science” and “I can be a scientist”).
The GLOBE SRS are two-day events organized by the GLOBE U.S. Coordination Office, housed at the Joan and James Leitzel Center for Mathematics, Science, and Engineering Education at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. The Office supports a diverse group of over 100 experienced and committed GLOBE Partnerships located at institutions of higher education, nonprofits, NASA centers, and school districts across the country. GLOBE Partnerships recruit, train, and maintain mentor relationships with GLOBE educators and youth, and engage in activities and events to support students, educators, and citizen scientists in collecting data and carrying out GLOBE research. Examples of this support include providing GLOBE-related professional development, loaning or assisting schools in purchasing equipment for data collection, and connecting educators and students to subject matter experts.
GLOBE Partnerships from each U.S. region collaborate to host the Symposia but even more importantly, they co-create and iterate the components of the events to lower barriers to participation and to ensure students feel that they belong in the science community and that their presence is valued. At the in-person events, educators and students participate in hands-on STEM learning activities, tours, and field trips to learn about the natural, institutional, and cultural assets of the region where the event takes place.
As the school year begins, participating U.S. educators in formal and informal STEM learning settings are provided with resources and support from the U.S. Coordination Office through the U.S. GLOBE mailing list and educator webinars. Local GLOBE Partnerships are available to help educators support students in conducting GLOBE environmental science research projects. Students use the science practices to conduct their investigations: asking questions, collecting measurements using GLOBE protocols or data from the GLOBE database, analyzing data, constructing explanations from their evidence, and creating a science poster. Along the way, educators and students can access tips and templates for each of these topics through the GLOBE SRS web page. Some educators reach out and connect with U.S. members of the GLOBE International STEM Network to ask questions or develop a mentor-mentee relationship throughout the school year.
In the spring, the in-person Symposia give students an opportunity to share the results of their GLOBE research projects through poster presentations and receive feedback from peers as well as knowledgeable STEM professional reviewers in an immersive science learning environment. The SRS aim for a fine balance between recognizing outstanding work and valuing a growth mindset for projects that may not be considered award-winning in a typical science fair. Participating in peer review helps prepare students to explain their research to the STEM professional reviewers. It also helps them build a scientific community and recognize the value of their own and each other’s perspectives in contributing to scientific research.
The cornerstone of the SRS is the conversations students have with STEM professionals about their research. With practical guidance and support from the GLOBE U.S. Coordination Office, STEM professional reviewers interact with students like they are discussing their research at a scientific conference, so students don’t feel like they are being “judged.” Unlike a science fair, there are no awards for “best project” or first, second, and third place. Instead, reviewers use a feedback form to identify elements of each student project that are exemplary in an aspect of the science practices and in application of 21st-century skills (e.g., use, analysis, and visualization of data, or community impact and engagement) as well as opportunities for improvement. Ideally, students walk away from the SRS seeing science as a collaborative endeavor and opportunity to learn from others, rather than as a competition they may have “failed” in the past. Students at the 2019 Northeast Regional SRS described their experiences with this approach, commenting, “I liked the non-competitive atmosphere, I learned more about collaboration,” and “the symposium helped me realize what sharing your research is like. We aren’t usually taught that sharing is part of the process until later on.” A student at the 2019 Midwest Regional SRS thought “that all science fair type things would be very competitive,” but learned by attending the SRS that “communication and collaboration makes for a better learning experience.” After the events, feedback is compiled and shared with educators and students to further improve their projects and research. Students can revise their projects and submit them to the online GLOBE student report database or to the IVSS.
From its start in 2016 through 2019, a total of 894 students and 240 educators attended the regional GLOBE SRS, providing them with an experience like a national research conference and preparing them for future STEM education and career opportunities. The 2020 and 2021 regional SRS were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although many in-person activities had resumed by 2022, concerns about the health and safety issues involved in large regional events remained. With financial support from NASA and the nonprofit organization Youth Learning as Citizen Environmental Scientists (YLACES), the GLOBE U.S. Coordination Office instead offered small grants to support locally led SRS events via a request for proposals distributed to GLOBE Partnerships and educators. This funding supported travel, meals, and lodging for educators and students from high-need schools, expanding access to those without the financial means to participate. The regional GLOBE SRS resumed in the spring of 2023 and YLACES continues to support local student research symposia.
Seven local GLOBE SRS events took place in April and May 2022 in five states: Alaska, California, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Ohio. They were held in a variety of venues (Table 1) and varied in length from a couple of class periods during school to a full day off campus. All events offered peer review and STEM professional review of student research presentations and opportunities to interact with STEM professionals (a requirement for event funding). Most local SRS events also offered opening remarks, opportunities to meet other students, and hands-on STEM learning activities. About half offered keynote speakers, career talks from local STEM professionals, and closing ceremonies. These had all been components of the regional SRS as well. STEM professionals and community members at the local events included representatives from state fish and wildlife agencies, local aquariums, science museums, and regional universities, as well as Indigenous Elders. Specific activities from each event can be seen in event highlights linked in the Table 1 Event Titles.
A total of 212 students participated in the 2022 GLOBE local SRS events, presenting 68 GLOBE research projects. Thirty-seven educators and 50 STEM professional reviewers participated. Although we were not able to collect individual student demographics as we do for the regional SRS, event reports submitted by grantees included the number of students attending from each participating school. Publicly available school enrollment data allowed us to learn more about the students’ school context. Fifty-four percent of students participating in the events came from schools where a majority of students were identified as economically disadvantaged1 and may not have easy access to STEM education resources. Forty-five percent of students participating came from schools where a majority of students were identified as a race or ethnicity underrepresented in STEM, specifically Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino/a/x, or Native American or Alaskan Native2 (National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2023). This information alone cannot tell us about the experience of inclusiveness at GLOBE events for students from minoritized, underserved, and underrepresented communities; however, it helps us understand the extent to which the program is addressing barriers to participation and expanding access to STEM learning opportunities.
In an anonymous post-event survey, 164 students rated their agreement with nine positively worded statements about their science interest and self-efficacy and their GLOBE affiliation before and after the events on a 6-point scale of strongly disagree to strongly agree. This type of measure is known as retrospective pre-post because it asks participants to think back to what they believed at an earlier time and compare it to what they believe in the present time. The results show significant positive change3 from before to after on every statement and the summed score of all statements, and more students agreeing or strongly agreeing with the statements after the events (Figure 1). Additionally, most students reported that they felt happy (94%), excited (87%), and focused (91%) during the events.4
We asked students what they enjoyed most about the events in an open-ended question. Findings based on qualitative analysis of the responses are as follows:
Students also completed the statement Before this event I thought … but now I know …. The results show that many came into the events thinking they would be “scary,” “boring,” “serious,” or “stressful,” but left describing them as “fun,” “easy,” “laid back,” “lively,” and “not competitive.” Examples of students’ statements are provided below:
[Before this event I thought] that it was going to be nerve-racky and stressful … [but now I know] it was very informative, casual, and a good experience for my future in STEM. —Local GLOBE SRS student participant, California
[Before this event I thought] it was gonna be long and was just going to be presentations … [but now I know] it was fun and I learned new things about science. —Local GLOBE SRS student participant, New Mexico
[Before this event I thought] it would be stressful and people would judge a lot. … [but now I know] it's really not competitive. —Local GLOBE SRS student participant, Alaska
Some students described feeling more confident and able to participate in science. For example, one student thought that “I wasn't good at science,” before the SRS, and after declared, “now I know I know science.” A second feared “that I was going to do terrible,” but learned “that I am NOT terrible at science.” A third believed that “there weren't many ways to conduct research,” but after the event recognized “I can do many things to conduct research.” Another student heard a call to action at the SRS, reporting that before the event they thought it “was gonna be silly and useless,” but now know that “Mother Nature needs US.”
Forty-two educators participating in an anonymous post-event survey provided very positive feedback about the events. Nearly all (98%) reported that participation improved their ability to integrate science research into their classroom or program, and all were very satisfied (88%) or satisfied (12%) with the events as a science learning experience for students. Educators appreciated the “the opportunity for students to present, practice public speaking, and visit somewhere new with STEM [professionals],” “the connection made with different communities, for the children to present their project, and meet with scientists,” and “students presenting, collaborating with other students from around the state, they see their science matters.” In another comment underscoring the importance of forging these connections, an educator appreciated “bringing the Jr. Scientists together where they can meet one another and make connections with their research—place-based meaning full.”
In our STEM professional reviewer survey, multiple reviewers described the GLOBE SRS as less competitive than traditional science fairs in their experience, acknowledging all students’ contributions. One of these found the SRS “much more supportive,” and another liked “that the focus is not on prizes/competition,” also observing that the review form is “more comprehensive.” Several other reviewers lauded GLOBE’s support for student engagement in science, remarking for example that the “projects are based more on authentic science.” One reviewer emphasized the relationship-, identity-, and community-building aspects of the SRS:
Modeling real conference relationship-building! So powerful! … Youth definitely made comments that indicated at least some participants came away valuing and understanding relationships—with others, with self, with land—as part of doing science. —Local GLOBE SRS Reviewer
In summary, the results of our evaluation of the 2022 GLOBE local SRS events presented here and the feedback from students, educators, and reviewers offer evidence that participation in the GLOBE SRS increases students’ science interest, self-efficacy, and identity. The non-competitive approach to presenting and sharing student research projects is viewed by all types of participants as a key strength of the SRS model. Furthermore, the addition of local SRS events to U.S. GLOBE programming helped students access new opportunities to connect their science learning with their local communities and environments.
We close by sharing some of the lessons we have learned from multiple years of planning, implementing, and evaluating the GLOBE SRS that may be applicable to similar programs that host regional or local student research events. These lessons are drawn not only from the 2022 GLOBE local SRS evaluation results presented in this article, but also on our past evaluations of the regional GLOBE SRS and the knowledge and experience of the GLOBE U.S. Coordination Office staff who managed the events. For more on the evaluation findings supporting these lessons learned, please visit our publications page.
Address Barriers to Participation: The financial support of our sponsors at NASA and YLACES helps cover scholarships, transportation, and other costs that can be barriers to participation. Continuing this sponsorship is critical to supporting GLOBE Partnerships’ efforts to broaden participation. The local SRS events in particular may have been more accessible to students, educators, and reviewers who experience barriers to traveling for the typical two-day regional SRS. It is important to continuously seek ways to make STEM experiential learning opportunities like the GLOBE SRS accessible to all students. Over time and through honest conversations with educators and local GLOBE Partners, the U.S. Coordination Office has identified and addressed barriers to participation. We share two examples for event planners and sponsors to consider:
Mix Things Up: Novelty may improve engagement and outcomes. Students at all the GLOBE local SRS events were generally happy and had positive outcomes, but our evaluation showed that it helped to make the events different from their everyday science classes. New locations, activities, and people (students from other schools, guest speakers, event team members, etc.) may all contribute to novelty. In addition to the required components of a student symposia, include activities that offer the opportunity for students to get up, get outside, and have fun with their learning. Students enjoyed the local SRS events overall and got a lot out of presenting their research but seemed to find these other types of learning activity especially exciting.
Focus On Student Learning Over Competition: At both the local and regional SRS, STEM professionals provide feedback to all participating students on their use of science practices and highlight how their projects were successful. Unlike a traditional science fair, the focus is on engaging all students in conversations about research within a supportive scientific community. Students responded positively to this model and expressed that it was a better learning experience for them, allowing them to cooperate and collaborate on their science research.
Invite Diverse Reviewers: Review by the STEM professionals is a critical component of the GLOBE SRS and a powerful experience for the students, helping them recognize that scientists are real people just like everybody else and that they too can be part of the scientific community. Research shows that students’ engagement with STEM benefits from seeing scientists who look like them and the people in their communities (e.g., Barakat 2022; Martin and Fisher-Ari 2021). A student participating in a 2022 local SRS event in California commented, “before this event, I thought scientists were old men … now I know we have lot more diversity in this area, it’s truly inspiring!”
Include STEM Career Talks to Boost Interest in STEM Careers: Our evaluation showed that having a scientist describe their career path and what they do made a significant difference. Across the 2022 local SRS events, average interest in a science career increased by more than twice as much among students who attended events with a career talk (17% increase) than among students who attended events without a career talk (7% increase). We are now recommending that all future GLOBE SRS events include career talks.
Think Globally, Act Regionally and Locally: As a silver lining, our 2022 pandemic-adapted activities gave us the opportunity to compare the regional and local U.S. GLOBE SRS models. The regional GLOBE SRS convene students from a wider distribution of U.S. states. Therefore, they presumably include students with more diverse experiences and ideas to share, and are more likely to offer students novel locations, activities, and experiences. The local GLOBE SRS events introduce students to ecosystems and science resources in their own communities and can be more responsive to community cultures, values, and ways of knowing. For example, the Alaska GLOBE local SRS team developed a modified project review form that considers Elder knowledge from Alaskan Natives that was later adopted across all GLOBE SRS regions. Comments from several students at the Alaska GLOBE local SRS show that they appreciated the event’s connections to their communities and cultures, reflecting that “I liked the kk’eeyh birch green up best because I am Athabascan,” “I liked when we talked about Koyukon because I'm Yup'ik and Koyukon,” and “maybe it is cool to talk about our tiny awesome village.” The local SRS may also be more easily accessible, bringing in new and younger students, more schools from remote areas, and students, educators, and reviewers with barriers to traveling long distances for a two-day regional SRS.
Both the local and regional GLOBE SRS show evidence of positive outcomes for students’ science interest, self-efficacy, and identity. And participation in the regional SRS can inspire local action, too. For example, before the event, a student at the 2019 Southeast Regional SRS reported thinking “GLOBE is about asking questions and collecting scientific data,” but after the event understood that “GLOBE research is also about making a difference in your community and advocating for issues you care about.” Similarly, a student at the 2019 Southwest Regional SRS thought “science projects might not be applicable to the real world,” but learned “they can have real community impacts.” Ultimately, in addition to the strengths they have in common, the regional and local SRS may each offer unique and complementary value for U.S. GLOBE programming.
The SRS “DO” Guide offers straightforward guidance for planning welcoming, student-centered science learning events based on SRS evaluation findings and links to helpful resources. For more information about how you can get involved in GLOBE, please visit the website https://globe.gov or contact the GLOBE U.S. Country Coordinator, Jen Bourgeault, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This material is based upon work supported by NASA (Grant no. 80NSSC18K0135) and Youth Learning As Citizen Environmental Scientists. The GLOBE Student Research Symposia were initially funded by the NSF (Grant No. 1546713). Any opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF, NASA, or Youth Learning As Citizen Environmental Scientists.
Eleanor M. Jaffee is the Owner and Principal Consultant at Insights Evaluation LLC in Manchester, New Hampshire, the External Evaluator for the GLOBE U.S. Coordination Office. Jennifer Bourgeault is the U.S. Country Coordinator, Haley Wicklein is the Assistant U.S. Country Coordinator, and Alicia Carlson is the Outreach Lead, all at the GLOBE U.S. Coordination Office at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, New Hampshire.
1. “Economically disadvantaged” is defined by each state and typically involves individual or household eligibility for federal assistance programs. Different states include different federal assistance programs in their criteria for identifying economically disadvantaged students (Blagg and Gutierrez 2021).
2. We acknowledge the limitations of these categories to represent the range of regional and cultural identities comprising them, which may differ in their representation in STEM. See for example Bhatti (2021).
3. Paired samples t-tests, all significant at p < .001.
4. Selected items from the Science Learning Activation Lab Engagement Survey (Chung et al. 2016).
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Baydoun, A., I. Jomaa, S. Jomaa, and M. Mashlab. 2023. Comparing select atmospheric parameters between disparate geographic locations using collaboration between two GLOBE schools. GLOBE International Virtual Science Symposium Report.
Beauchamp, A.L., S.J. Roberts, J.M. Aloisio, D. Wasserman, J.E. Heimlich, J.D. Lewis, J. Munshi-South, J.A. Clark, and K. Tingley. 2022. Effects of research and mentoring on underrepresented youths’ STEM persistence into college. Journal of Experiential Education 45 (3): 316–336.
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Blagg, K., and E. Gutierrez. 2021. The pandemic may prompt changes in how states identify economically disadvantaged students for federal accountability. Urban Institute. https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/pandemic-may-prompt-changes-how-states-identify-economically-disadvantaged-students-federal-accountability
Brannan, T., and R. Baker. 2023. Water quality and riparian zone survey of Alaska's Salcha River. U.S. Student Research Symposia (SRS).
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