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Leaf Spotting: Citizen Science with Foldscope

Updated: Dec 23, 2022

Spent Earth Day getting the kids actively involved in conversations about a proposed Clean Air Zone in Leeds.

What does, and should, it mean to them if they're living and walking to school within the Zone?

We took the chance to get hands-on with Foldscope and explore issues, opinions and facts currently being talked about.

STEM fitted snugly into Sunday plans as Foldscope travelled with us as we walked inside and outside of the Zone.

What did we hope for?

  1. To get as much fresh air as possible

  2. To see science as an accessible conversation starter

  3. To think about visual signs for the impact of air pollution

  4. To try out suggestions coming from conversations that I'm having with collaborators at the Fdn for Digital Creativity.

  5. To experience environmental science on a practical level, to engage young people about issues 'in their own back yard' and start to understand wider implications, and policy making

  6. To undertake citizen science activities and recognise the value, and concerns about inaccuracies, of such projects

Foldscope as an origami pocket microscope was built within 10 minutes using the the video tutorials - no adults involved.

The kids tested the setup, with a leaf taken from the garden, and connected the microscope to a mobile phone for digital access and recordings of images. There, all ready to capture the life of a roadside leaf.

Walking routes shown below in North Leeds and the perimeter of Harewood House. The first image a particular talking point during the local elections with changing road layouts.

Today it was ease of everything (and great suggestions) that steered us towards a leaf's perspective. Predictions based on research already carried out by scientists, what they look for and how they understand impact of air pollution, but for us on a very local level.

Those predictions, about why a future Leeds can be different, were based on the map included in the FAQs for the proposed Clean Air Zone. But for more significant learning, mapped onto what the kids see on a day to day basis. Traffic congestion every weekday morning and afternoon, with an understanding of how significant citizen science can be.

And finally, their images and predictions annotated and layered onto a Google map and shared amongst themselves. That bit's not included here......would be good to talk about scale.

So what do scientists look for when reporting on air pollution and how can their findings help our community if and when positive changes happen? Today was a springboard for conversation and an opportunity to be curious with Foldscope.

Keen to read more? We found this report worth the read:

Natural England 2016

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