Citizen Science Design: Community Shellfishing Support

Towns in Maine have the option of creating a shellfish committee to oversee local management of the clam flats within a town. This includes management of access by non-residents, access to different fishing areas, reseeding work, and other steps to make the fishery healthy and productive. The various town committees benefit from access to expertise that can help with this work. In particular, they often need help in designing local studies to understand which coves and flats would benefit most from reseeding, which areas have strong settlement of clams without intervention, which management techniques impact natural settlement, where predation by crabs is most prevalent, and other matters. Finding help doing the kind of field studies that could shed light on such questions is difficult: The Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) has only 3 field scientists within its shellfish management program to cover the entire coast of Maine. The scientist assigned to the eastern region works with 70 towns.  So, in some cases local committees have approached biology teachers for help with such questions. But without external support, it is difficult for teachers to develop programs that provide real assistance to shellfish committees while also supporting good learning opportunities. This is exactly the problem we described in “Participatory Science and Education: Bringing Both Views into Focus” (Zoellick et al., 2012) and why involvement of non-profit or higher education organizations that can serve as intermediaries between schools and people with questions (whether they are scientists or shellfish committees) is so important.

In the coming year we plan to involve students in the alternative program at Sumner as well a number of students in the mainstream program in collaborative work with DMR scientists and local shellfish committees to explore questions of interest. We are in the process of identifying the actual questions that the students will be working on in collaboration with DMR scientists and shellfish committees, but they are likely to be a combination of population surveys and experimental designs aimed at particular questions. In the course of this design work we have been impressed (even amazed?) at the level of interest and support for this work from different segments of local communities. This support, coupled with our past work, leads to the following conjectures that will inform our design.


We will continue to explore the conjectures that we began looking at last year, but now with access to a survey instrument (see the description 0f EASYES) that will allow us to collect pre-test / post-test information.

  • Students would leave the program with a better understanding of the nature of scientific work and a more positive view of science as something potentially useful
  • Students’ own self-efficacy with regard to scientific work would increase.
  • We would see change even among (and perhaps especially among) the students who expressed strong disinterest in the program at the outset.

In addition, we will explore conjectures related to development of supports to sustain this work:

  • By transitioning from data collection that has to stand up to peer-review to data collection that is just expected to be useful in managing local resources, we will be able to better align what students can do with outcomes that have value outside the school.
  • Work on local problems, in connection with adults outside the school who are not scientists themselves, but who value the outcomes of science, will help in changing students’ perceptions of science and scientists.
  • Work with persistent local issues that are experienced by communities all along the coast of Maine will be important in creating the lightweight, yet functional support infrastructure that teachers need in order continue connecting with each other and growing in their ability to support learning while engaging students in work that is useful to others.