Math Students Collaborating Nationwide, Even Worldwide!

There are middle school projects that gain impact through collaboration with students outside your own classroom, such as estimating the average amount of water used per person per day. This problem takes on deeper relevance when averages are compared to those of classrooms around the country and the world. Other projects, such as finding the circumference of the Earth, require data input by geographically distant schools. 

To connect with and collaborate with classrooms interested in the same project, you can make use of online sites, even though you work in an offline classroom. You need Internet access to register for the project (free registration!), to find suggested teaching procedures, and to submit and retrieve data from other schools. But you can be offline while teaching the lessons, collecting and analyzing data, and presenting results. 

The Internet-based projects below are excellent samples of what’s available online for the offline classroom. If you know of similar projects, please share via this blog! 

Down the Drain: How Much Water Do You Use?  

In this project, students share information about water usage with other students from around the country and the world. Based on data collected by their household members and their classmates, students determine the average amount of water used by one person in a day. Students must develop a hypothesis, conduct an experiment, and present their results.

RoadKill 

If your school is located among rural roads, you and your students can collect roadkill data in your community for analysis and compare your data to other areas participating in the project. The site provides a detailed protocol for monitoring and reporting roadkill, a method of reporting data through the web, and access to data collected by all participants. The project crosses many disciplines, including environmental science education and data analysis.

The International Boiling Point Project

Students around the world boil water to discover what influences its boiling point. Is it room temperature, elevation, volume of water, or the heating device used? All you have to do is boil a bit of water, record a bit of information, and send it along to the site for inclusion in the database of results.

The Noon Day Project: Measuring the Circumference of the Earth 

 In the course of the project, students learn about Eratosthenes and his experiment, and then do a similar experiment themselves by collaborating with other schools. They learn the “why” of the measurements they’re taking, collect the data as precisely as possible, and submit their findings to the central site. By collaborating with a classroom in another state or even another country, they actually determine a good estimate of the Earth’s circumference. The site provides detailed instructions, activities, and reference materials.

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/07/2012.

What’s the Average?

Students often answer with the formula: “Add all the numbers together and divide, etc.” with no strong idea of what “average” means. Few adults, in fact, distinguish among the measures of central tendency: mean, median, and mode, but tend to lump them into a general idea of “what’s typical” of the data. Not a bad place to start, but insufficient for understanding the wealth of statistics that overwhelm us in today’s world.

The first activities here immerse students in working with mean, median, and mode both visually and interactively. They will be confronted constantly with the differences among the three concepts of average. The second set offers problems to challenge them to use these statistics in problem situations, such as finding how average temperature changes with distance from the equator.

If you have found a favorite way to help your students understand what “average” is, please share your idea by commenting to this blog post. Thanks!

Describing Data Using Statistics
Investigate the mean, median, mode, and range of a data set through its graph. Manipulate the data and watch how these statistics change (or, in some cases, how they don’t change).

Understanding Averages
Written for the student, this tutorial on mean, median, and mode includes fact sheets on the most basic concepts, plus practice sheets and a quiz. Key ideas are clearly defined at the student level through graphics as well as text.

Plop It!
Users click to easily and quickly build a bar graph and view how the mean, median, and mode change as entries are added to the graph. An efficient tool for viewing these statistics visually.

Comparing Properties of the Mean and the Median Through the Use of Technology
Seven points appear on a number line, 0 to 400. As students move one or more of these points along the line, the effects on the mean and median are immediately displayed. Questions challenge students to explore these measures of center; for example, What happens if you pull some of the data values way off to one extreme or the other?

Working hours: How much time do teens spend on the job?
This activity challenges students to interpret a bar graph (showing only percentages), to determine the mean number of hours teenagers work per week. A more complicated and interesting problem than it may seem at first glance! A full solution sets out the math in detail. Related questions ask students to calculate averages for additional data sets.

The Global Sun Temperature Project
This web site allows students from around the world to work together to determine how average daily temperatures and hours of sunlight change with distance from the equator. Students learn to collect, organize, and interpret data. Classrooms can participate in the project each spring and each fall. You will find project information, lesson plans, and implementation assistance at the site.

Train Race
In this interactive game, students compute the mean, median, and range of the running times of four trains, then select the one train that will get to the destination on time. Players extend their basic understanding of these statistics as they try to find the most reliable train for the trip. Students can select one of three levels of difficulty. There are tips for students as well as a full explanation of the key instructional ideas underlying the game.


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 11/29/2011.

Birds of a Feather: Citizen-Science and Data Analysis

Do you need an innovative way to engage students in data collection and analysis? Or maybe you’d like to teach life science concepts in a more authentic context. Whether you are a science teacher, a math teacher, or both, you may want to consider a citizen-science project from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Focusing on bird observation, the projects provide important information about species distribution and behavior to ornithologists. However, much of the data is also accessible online – providing opportunities for students to analyze and conduct inquiry-based projects.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology sponsors many different citizen-science projects. We’ve highlighted four that might be most appropriate for middle school participation. You can learn more about all the projects at the CLO web site.

eBird
http://ebird.org/content/birdsleuth/
Participants record information about bird observations. The database is used by scientists, conservationists, and birdwatchers who want to know more about the distributions and movement patterns of birds across the continent.

Celebrate UrbanBirds
http://www.birds.cornell.edu/celebration
Participants learn about 16 species of urban birds, select a birdwatching area, and observe for 10 minutes, recording which species they see. Scientists use the data to study bird populations, behavior, and their interaction with the urban habitat. Celebrate Urban Birds also includes ideas and resources for urban greening activities.

Project PigeonWatch
http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pigeonwatch
Participants observe pigeons and record data about flock numbers, color, and mating behavior. The data is used by scientists to better understand why pigeons continue to exist in so many colors and which colors are preferred for mates. This project does not currently have online data entry available. Printable data forms can be completed and returned to the Lab.

Project NestWatch
http://watch.birds.cornell.edu/nest/home/index
Participants monitor nests and breeding habits of any bird species.

A series of BirdSleuth curriculum modules are available for purchase and can help teachers integrate the projects into their classrooms. However, these modules are not necessary for participation in any of the citizen-science projects.

Science and mathematics are seamlessly integrated in these projects. Participating in bird observation allows middle school students to learn these concepts in an authentic setting:

Life Science

·         Diversity and Adaptations of organisms
·         Populations and Ecosystems
·         Bird behavior

Mathematics

·         Data collection
·         Data analysis – graphing, statistics (range, mean, median, mode)

The citizen-science projects from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology can target the Life Science Content Standard of the National Science Education Standards. Bird observations may also lead to student-directed inquiry, which align with the Science as Inquiry Content Standard. Students also work on the NCTM Data Analysis and Probability Standard as well as the NCTM Connections Standard as they apply mathematics outside of a school context.

Best of all, these projects can be completed anytime, anywhere. Get your students outdoors and observing birds today!


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 11/28/2011.

Connecting Classrooms, Sharing Real Data

This article first appeared in Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears online magazine April 1, 2008. The article has been modified to include middle school math and science examples. All versions of this article are licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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Collaborative and real-time data projects engage students in collecting and sharing local data; communicating with other students around the world; using and analyzing “pooled” data from web-based databases; and accessing unique, primary source information. Even though there is no substitute for direct experiences and active investigation, extending the realm of inquiry through electronic communications can greatly enrich and extend an inquiry approach to science and math teaching.

These kinds of projects are highly motivating to students because they bring classrooms together from across the country and globe in shared learning experiences. Students are required to go beyond their own experience, to share with others, and to consider alternative points of view. Not only do students share data, they share perspectives and cultures. What could be more exciting?

Some wonderful collaborative and real-time data projects have been available online for years. To get a feel for the breadth of available projects, try a few searches in the Internet Projects Registry from the Global School Network (GSN) and in the KIDPROJ index of projects. You will find lists of projects from around the world that cover many disciplines. You can search for projects specific to your curriculum and students’ age levels and even design, post, and moderate a project that your class and others can join. You can also subscribe to both web sites’ listservs to get e-mail updates on new projects when they are listed.

Featured Projects

K-12: Track Spring’s Journey North
Teachers and students in K-12 classrooms are invited to participate in Journey North’s annual global study of wildlife migration and seasonal change. A free Internet-based citizen science project, Journey North enables students in 11,000 schools to watch the wave of spring as it unfolds. Students monitor migration patterns of monarch butterflies, hummingbirds, whooping cranes, and other animals; the blooming of plants; and changing sunlight, temperatures, and other signs of spring. Students share their local observations with classmates across North America and beyond, and look for patterns on real-time maps. As they put local observations into a global context – and connect with field scientists – participants are better prepared to explore how climate and other factors affect living things.

Each Journey North study features many entry points and resources that address learning standards: Journey North for Kids reading booklets and lessons, stunning photos and video clips, weekly migration updates, interactive maps, instructional units, and compelling migration stories.

Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education: Collaborative Projects

Noon Day Project
The goal of the Noon Day Project is to have students measure the circumference of the earth using a method that was first used by Eratosthenes over 2000 years ago. Students at various sites around the world will measure shadows cast by a meter stick and compare their results. From this data students will be able to calculate the circumference of the earth.

International Boiling Point Project
The purpose of this project is to discover which factor in the experiment (room temperature, elevation, volume of water, or heating device) has the greatest influence on boiling point.

Down the Drain
How much water is used in homes everyday? Would you be surprised to learn that according to the USGS the average American uses between 80-100 gallons (approx. 300 – 375 liters) of water per day? Do people in other parts of the world use more or less water than Americans? This collaborative project helps students find out the answers to these questions. By collecting data on water usage from people around the world students will be able to see how their water use compares to others and determine what they might do to use less water.

Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education: Real Time Data Projects

Wonderful World of Weather
By using hands-on activities and real-time data investigations, students can develop a basic understanding of how weather can be described in measurable quantities, such as temperature, wind, and precipitation. The real-time data lessons also address topics such as climate, cloud classification, and severe storms. Students use the Weather Underground web site to collect and analyze weather from around the world. Three sets of activities are included: Introductory Activities, Real-Time Data Activities, and Language Arts Activities. A Literature Connection page with selected prose and poetry with a weather or season theme is a part of the site.

Musical Plates
Earthquakes, a scientific and physical phenomenon, affect our lives in many ways. In this project, students use Real-Time earthquake and volcano data from the Internet to explore the relationship between earthquakes, plate tectonics, and volcanoes.

The Stowaway Adventure
This multidisciplinary Internet-based learning experience has been designed to expose students to real world problem solving through unique uses of instructional technologies. In particular, students will use real time data from the Internet to track a real ship at sea, determine its destination and predict when it will arrive. In addition, they will have the opportunity to monitor the weather conditions at sea and predict when rough weather might impact on the ship’s arrival time. The focus is on math concepts and navigation.

The GLOBE Program
The GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) Program brings together students, teachers, and scientists from around the world to learn more about the environment. Students use established protocols to collect environmental data locally. The data are shared using a global database to further the understanding of Earth as a system. For a school or classroom to submit data for any of the projects, at least one teacher must be trained in the GLOBE science measurement protocols and education activities by attending a GLOBE Teacher Workshop.

However, data from around the world has been archived since 1995 and can be accessed and downloaded by country, state, or region, or specific school by anyone. The Teacher’s Guide, which contains hundreds of lessons, protocols, and field guides, is searchable by grade band and concept.

ePals
ePals offers K-12 students and teachers around the world a free and safe environment for building and exchanging knowledge based on protected connectivity tools, evidence-based curricula and authentic, collaborative learning experiences. The ePals Global Learning Community is the largest online community of K-12 learners, enabling more than half a million educators and millions of students across 200 countries and territories to safely connect, exchange ideas, and work together. ePals projects cover the topics of global warming, habitats, maps and others.

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/14/2012.

Getting Dirty With Data

Data overwhelms our modern lives. How to make sense of the numbers in newspaper stories, in campaign speeches, in scientific experiments? Statistics offers tools to help us organize and interpret data. Even at the middle school level, students can work with statistics in real-world situations, whether actual or simulated. To actually apply statistics to real questions, nothing answers like a class project. Students can get their hands on messy, raw data. Collecting and analyzing data, displaying their findings and reaching conclusions — these may be your students’ best mathematical experiences of the school year!

Junk Mail
No one is immune from receiving junk mail, but just how much of it is really finding its way to your address? In this simple activity, data collection and analysis are a key part of a project to learn about the importance of recycling. For one week, students count and record the number of pieces of junk mail received in their homes. The display and organization of the data can be modified to address the data and statistics topics the class is working on.

Numerical and Categorical Data
In this unit of three lessons, students formulate questions that can be addressed with numerical and categorical data. They then collect, organize, and display relevant data to answer those questions. As they collect categorical data, they consider how to word questions and how to record and display the data. As they collect numerical data, they focus on how to obtain measurements and how to represent and analyze the data by describing its shape and other important features. The final lesson examines specifically the differences in representing and analyzing categorical and numerical data.

Population Growth
This series of activities explores the mathematical and environmental aspects of population growth. How fast is the population growing? Has it always grown at this rate? Are the populations of different countries growing differently? How can we predict the population in the future? How will a growing population impact the environment? Using archived census and demographic data as well as up-to-the-minute population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, students will learn how to model population growth and study the implications of a changing population.

Boil, Boil, Toil and Trouble: The International Boiling Point Project
Be part of an annual event: Enroll your class in this free Internet-based collaborative project. Students discover which factors — room temperature, elevation, volume of water, or heating device — have the greatest influence on boiling point. Students boil water, record their data, and send it via email to be included in the site’s database of results. After gathering the data, activities focus on analyzing the compiled data to find answers to questions about how and why water boils.

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/07/2012.