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Butterfly transects Capability: Critique evidence NoS achievement aims: Investigating in science Contextual strands: Living world Level : 3,4

Moths and Butterfly New Zealand Trust

This resource illustrates how a discussion based on information given on the Moths and Butterfly New Zealand Trust website can provide opportunities for students to strengthen their capability to critique evidence in the context of science.

Curriculum Aims and AOs

The Nature of Science strand


Achievement objectives relevant to this resource

Investigating in science

Carry out science investigations using a variety of approaches: classifying and identifying, pattern seeking, exploring, investigating models, fair testing, making things, or developing systems.

L1 & 2:

Extend their experiences and personal explanations of the natural world through exploration, play, asking questions and discussing simple models.

L3 & 4:

Ask questions, find evidence, explore simple models, and carry out appropriate investigations to develop simple explanations.

Living World


Achievement objectives relevant to this resource


Understand how living things interact with each other and with the non-living environment.

L1 & 2:

Recognise that living things are suited to their particular habitat.

L3 & 4:

Explain how living things are suited to their particular habitat and how they respond to environmental changes, both natural and human-induced.

Learning focus

Students discuss how scientists support “citizen scientists” to gather robust data.

Learning activity

On its website, the Monarch Butterfly New Zealand Trust gives instructions for people wanting to participate in research involving “butterfly transects”.

Adapting the resource

After the students have read the information on the website about butterfly transects, hold a class discussion that focuses on the likely quality of data collected.

First check that students have understood what butterfly transects are and what information can be gained from them. [Butterfly transects involve people regularly walking set routes and noting the butterflies they see. Data provided in this way over time provides information about changes in butterfly populations.]

Ask students:

  • How reliable do you think data collected in this way is likely to be? [People might incorrectly identify butterflies, they might not accurately record what they see, they might get distracted and not notice many butterflies, they might not always go out at the same time or walk the same route, etc. However if a large number of people participate there will be a lot of data and this will make it more reliable.]
  • What does the Trust do to try and make sure it gets “good” data? [It provides clear protocols to follow, e.g., it tells walkers to imagine a particular sized box around them when they walk and to only count butterflies in that area. Transects are only carried out on clear days in certain months.]
  • If you were going to participate in the butterfly transects what would you do to ensure the data you provide are as good as they can be? [Learn to identify common butterflies correctly, get a good butterfly identification chart, know what species you are likely to see, record accurately and methodically, etc.]

What’s important here?

Citizen science projects are becoming more common as the Internet enables rapid communication, easy gathering of data and automated storage of the data for subsequent analysis by scientists. With the help of many volunteers, scientists can gather data to answer questions that they would not previously have been able to address. However, citizen science projects rely on careful adherence to the research protocols by everyone who takes part: this activity could help build a sense of why that is important, as well as alerting students to the possibility of taking part in such projects.  Developing an appreciation of how evidence in science is generated supports students to become scientifically literate, i.e., to participate as critical, informed, and responsible citizens in a society in which science plays a significant role. (This is the purpose of science in NZC.)

What are we looking for?

Do you students realise that quality research is dependent on carefully collected data?

Do students recognise that large data sets are likely to be more reliable than small sets?

Opportunities to learn at different curriculum levels

For suggestions about adapting tasks in ways that allow students to show progress in critiquing evidence see Progressions .

Exploring further

Other contexts for Citizen Science projects:

The Marine Metre Squared project  is a citizen science initiative that provides the basis for another capability 3 resource (See Marine Metre Squared).

The Garden Bird Survey , carried out annually by Landcare Research, has quite detailed counting protocols. See the resource The Garden Bird Survey: Participants’ Stories for capability 4: Making sense of representations about science ideas.

The Citizen Science New Zealand  Tui Project  asks citizen scientists to collect data on tui behaviour over the summer. The data collection involves quite specific attention to the environment. 

Other resources for this capability

Key words

Web resource, butterflies, citizen science