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Citizen Scientists Aim High for Education

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Citizen scientists have the power to advance scientific thinking where it really counts -- with kids who need hands-on learning to become emotionally invested in learning itself.

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I discovered this as I was looking at a lot of fundraising videos this week, preparing a new lesson for Digital Fundraising School, which is coming this fall.

Which video did I think was most effective? Which one raised the most money, got the most followers, made more hearts beat a little faster?

I viewed videos about guys who decided to start a peanut butter manufacturing company after their bus caught fire on the road, listened to a graphic novelist with a charming Italian accent raise all the money she needed for her new book, and foot-tapped along with a couple of twentysomethings who managed to sing their way into funding their next album.

Then I saw a video made by a father and his 7-year-old son. It was the game-changer. They weren't pitching anything. They didn't want any money. They just had a plan to send a video camera into space. They did this all by themselves, using a Thai takeout food container as a space capsule.

As the dad, Luke Geissbuhler, described it, "reaching the upper stratosphere at 120,000 feet, this homemade capsule could travel four times higher than a jet liner, photograph the blackness of space, the curvature of the Earth, and safely land again in an hour and a half."

Their video is the most compelling six minutes and fifty nine seconds I've seen so far this year. It shows them creating a high-altitude balloon, using hand warmers and insulation to protect a video camera, and bundling in an iPhone to send a GPS signal to locate the capsule for recovery. And it has incredible space images, taken from their craft.

The dad is a cinematographer and self-professed 'tinkerer.' He's never worked for NASA, has never been an astronaut. He just wanted to give his son a taste of project-based learning. Later, he gave a TEDx talk about it all.

There is something important going on here, linked with the DIY movement, living at the intersection of science, learning, and fun. Citizen scientists have given us a powerful educational tool.

The most successful videos I watched this week all had a deeper purpose. The peanut butter guys want to address malnutrition by deploying packages of therapeutic food. The inventive (and patient) father wanted to give his son a taste of hands-on learning.

You can learn more about the father and son who build spacecraft at the Brooklyn Space Program website. Do you have your own DIY project to crowdfund? Check out Digital Fundraising School.

Space image courtesy Wikimedia, taken by Justin Hamel and Chris Thompson.