Skip to main content

Using Survey123 to engage students in a citizen science geography project

Survey123 for ArcGIS is an app that can be used to engage students in citizen science projects. Discover how a teacher in Toronto used it to set up a project on the Don River for the school’s Grade 9 students.

Danny Schryburt is a teacher at Bishop Strachan School (BSS) in Toronto. He’s an avid geographic information systems (GIS) user who’s always looking for interesting and relevant activities to introduce to his students. In the spring of 2018, he approached us for support on a project to monitor the health of the Don River. We connected him with local professionals from the Ministry of the Environment’s Water Monitoring department and a GIS Ambassador from the Toronto and  Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) who provided him with guidance on the Don River project.

In June 2018, we made a couple of visits to BSS to help Danny with designing his Survey123 questions. After testing and fine-tuning, he created a survey to collect water quality data with the purpose of getting the students engaged in citizen science – this involved inquiry-based learning and a hands-on approach to science. The hope is to do the Don River project annually with the Grade 9 geography classes at BSS, so they can compare and analyse the water quality over time. The collected information can be shared with the TRCA to support their work in the protection and restoration of the Don River natural environment.

Danny Schryburt hopes the Don River Project is an annual citizen science activity for the Grade 9 students at BSS.

Data Collection

At the beginning of this school year, Danny was prepared to launch the project. On September 28, 2018, 127 Grade 9 students participated in a full day of learning, starting with understanding how to use the water measurement tools and how to identify invasive species. Later in the day, they were bussed to their assigned areas and spent three hours collecting data in pairs at different points along the Don River.

Their task was to observe, measure and record the river’s conditions connected to the physical, chemical, and biological conditions of the river and the surrounding area. They had the opportunity to do hands-on learning as they waded in the water to collect water characteristics, like pH and turbidity. The table below outlines the measurement or observation and the tool or method used for the Don River project:

Measurement or observation

Tool or method to use

  • Water Temperature
    Water Conductivity
  • Atmospheric pressure
  • Dissolved Oxygen Content
  • Turbidity



  • pH

pH strips

  • River Flow Speed

Rope, timer, ping pong ball

  • River Width


  • Presence of Garbage and Litter
  • Presence of Invasive Species
  • Signs of erosion and river bank damage




Grade 9 BSS students collecting data for their survey on the health of the Don River in Toronto. One student told Danny, “the project helped me learn about the environment from a whole new angle.” 

BSS students taking notes on their water measurements.

Data Analysis and Maps

Back in the classroom with their geographic inquiry in mind, they analyzed the results of their survey on a map in ArcGIS Online. Students selected two variables to evaluate, compare and to see if there was a correlation between them. For example, students may have selected to explore the connection between flow velocity and dissolved oxygen in the water. Students created maps that highlighted their findings on specific variables they included in their geographic inquiry.  

This student map shows the pH value collected along the Don River in September 2018. In the pop-up, you can see other water characteristics collected for the study.

Danny shared with us his thoughts about the project and why he chose to use GIS for this study, “GIS is a valuable tool that helps students to improve their ability to think spatially and conduct data analysis. For this project, it provided students with the opportunity to collect and analyze their own data; which helps to give them ownership of the project and increases student engagement. Mapping the data that was collected gave students the chance to understand and draw connections in the data – an example of how GIS provides the opportunity to think spatially.“

Before the end of the school year, Danny has another project planned for the students. This time, it will be a cross-city tour of Toronto where the students will collect data along a transect of the city from east to west with the purpose of analyzing the safety, transportation, culture, and other features of different neighbourhoods.

We hope to continue supporting projects like this to ensure students are given opportunities to do interesting activities and gain skills that can be used beyond the classroom. If you’re a K-12 educator who has a citizen science project in mind or requires support from us, please contact us at We want to hear from you.

You can also connect with a GIS Ambassador in your local area. This GIS professional or higher education student can support you on a project, visit your class to discuss careers in GIS or help you find data for an activity you are planning to do with your students.

New to ArcGIS Online? Sign up for a free account at

About the Author

Angela Alexander is a K-12 Education Resource Developer on the Esri Canada Education and Research team. She has over six years of experience working with educators across Canada. Angela is responsible for producing geographic information system (GIS) and curriculum specific resources, conducting and creating custom workshops for educators and judging and developing the question for the annual GIS Skills Ontario competition in Waterloo, Ontario. Angela has a Bachelor’s degree in Geography and Sociology from the University of Western Ontario and completed the Applied Digital Geography and GIS certificate program at Ryerson University.

Profile Photo of Angela Alexander