So, families – you are out and about one morning.  You’re tuned into what is happening in nature on this day and you spot something you’ve NEVER EVER seen before in real life.  You and the youngins you’re with squint and blink and peer but you just don’t get a close enough look at the something to know exactly which kind of something it is.

Here we go!  Nature’s teachable moment.  Grow that young curiosity and satisfy your own (of course you have curiosity!?!) by finding out what kind of something it is.  Seriously.  You can do this with a camera, some willful interest and 5-10 minutes of internet access.  Or you can look at the something’s field guide which you have handy for just such occasions.

So, my something was an owl.  Never seen one in my yard before so I was ecstatic.  Got a glimpse in the am but then it flew off, but later in the same day I saw it peering over at me from the woods.  I have really no good cameras, but I attempted to photograph it on the second sighting because after my morning spot I found a place to check in with the nature spotting crowd on Project Noah.

homepage of Project Noah dot org

As soon as I had created an account on Project Noah, I needed a picture of my subject.  My second spot of the day yielded one photo that, when enlarged to 150% of its original size, showed those owly dark eyes peering at me.  It was awesome and creepy and cool all at once.  I uploaded this photo with the location of the spotting to Project Noah, with a note of apology about the quality, etc., and BAM, under an hour I had an authoritative reply – my owl was a Barred owl.

Here is my photo – see I told you it was awful.  Its remarkable to me that anything could be seen so now my quest is to get better pictures!

With this information, we thumbed back through the pages of our Birds of North America and studied the photos and facts available about Barred owls, compared them to the earlier speculation of Great Horned Owl or Barn Owl by other members of the family, and finally indeed found reasons to concur that yes – this owl was a Barred owl because of this and this and this.

So, what’s the point?  You can use the crowd of experts who join in collaborative communities or commons (Zooniverse, Project Noah, Flickr: The Commons, just to name a very few) to get help and spot-on information about just about any interest or question.  Project Noah and the Zooniverse are citizen science community alliances that encourage participation in lots of different ways.  Flickr: The Commons houses image collections from cultural heritage institutions or other  kinds of grouped images where viewers are encouraged to add tags or facts about those images.  Crowdsourcing takes on many forms and yields benefits to these organizations that could never be achieved without the power of the knowledge, curiosity and interest of that community’s contributions.

And, you say you don’t care about woods or owls or birds or crowds?  (You must be the grinch….) Well, just open your eyes and look with wonder at something you’ve never noticed before together, or cultivate an existing special interests or passion for something your family already thinks is really amazing phenomenal and ____________!

Knowsaic Nitty Gritty about this post:

Use traditional reference sources together with crowdsource sites (in this case crowdsource=expertise) like these (from the cloud or the shelf).  Your family will totally get hooked.  It’s not enough to wonder and forget when you’ve got young minds to shape.  Take it to the sources to learn and share what you know.  It’s a knowsaic out there!

Crowdsource  or The Crowd– experts you don’t know yet who volunteer in online or physical groups with like interests and share what they know

The Cloud – the services and resources that are stored/hosted and exist  in equipment that does not reside in your local device but instead on hardware that is networked to the internet.  You access these Cloud services or sites by navigating or searching the world wide web (websites, portals, communities of interest, blogs, wikis and other social media).

The Shelf – your family’s books, your library’s books, any collections that are special and give you new know-how about your topic.  The Shelf can be in a house, library facility or a virtual shelf  on your eReader or iPad.  If your shelf is virtual, then it’s pulling down information from The Cloud (see above).

Traditional reference sources – Encyclopedia, Reference Guide, Directory, Dictionary, Thesaurus, Field Guides, etc. The things that give you the answer to  who? how? what? which? why? when? questions.  If you don’t have these handy books at the ready, look in your library Reference section or check your library’s web site>Reference section.  It is really great to browse the library shelves to see what books are brought together in the physical collection about a subject that you are really excited to know everything about.  Really need an answer fast?  Ask a librarian services on the library web site can help you get an answer as fast as you can type in your question in the chat box.  Don’t know about your local library yet and gotta get the info?  Try IPL2  for Kids  or Parents (The Internet Public Library 2).

If you do try Wikipedia, always check the reference or bibliography sources of information that have been provided in the Wikipedia article.  Some articles can have bibliographies that lead you to great information, and some articles are much less authoritative, therefore not as reliable sources of information.  Domain names that end in .edu, .org or .gov are typically considered to be good places to click to from a Wikipedia bibliography or reference list.  For my Barred Owl example, below is a screen shot of the references and external links which point readers to good sources like the USGS and the Birds of North America book that I started out with!  It’s always reassuring to see that a source you have already reviewed is cited by other sources.