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.

Math Starters: Projects to Begin the Year!

If you want to “hook” your class on math right from the start, you may want to consider one of these real-world projects. Students deal with real data in these investigations—collecting, presenting, and analyzing their findings. As they work on the NCTM Data Analysis and Probability Standard, they apply school mathematics in contexts arising outside of mathematics, as recommended in the NCTM Connections Standard.

Down the Drain: How Much Water Do You Use?
In this Internet-based collaborative project, students collect data from their classmates and their household members about water usage. The goal is to determine the average amount of water used by one person in a day. They can share that information with other classes online and compare the average amount of water used per person per day in other parts of the country and the world. The project goes beyond merely collecting data to considering some real questions on wasted water. Information on how to set up the project, how to share data online, and how to publish student findings is included.

Boil, Boil, Toil and Trouble: The International Boiling Point Project
Which do you think has the greatest influence on the boiling point of water: room temperature, elevation, volume of water, or heating device? To answer this question requires input from people all over the world, and this online collaboration allows your students to enter the investigation. They will boil water, under controlled conditions, record information, and post it online. They can analyze the data sent in by others worldwide and reach their own conclusions on what makes a pot of water boil.

Musical Plates: A Study of Earthquakes and Plate Tectonics
In this series of lessons, students use real-time data to solve a problem, study the correlation between earthquakes and tectonic plates, and determine whether or not there is a relationship between volcanoes and plate boundaries. The science and data analysis are more demanding in this project than in the first two, but still within the range of the upper-level middle school student. Four activities, each designed to be used in a 45-minute class period, teach students how to access and interpret real-time earthquake and volcano data. “Real-time” actually does mean data on volcanic and earthquake activity that is going on during the time of your class investigation! Three enrichment lessons follow in this teacher-friendly unit.


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.

Using Real Data in Environmental Science Classes

Students are naturally curious about the world they live in. What better way to satisfy this curiosity than by giving them hands-on opportunities to collect data and find answers to their questions? These resources provide opportunities for students to collect data and to present and analyze their findings. These skills are an important part of the Science as Inquiry strand in the National Science Education Standards.

Down the Drain: How Much Water Do You Use?
In this Internet-based collaborative project, students collect data from their classmates and from members of their own households to determine the average amount of water used by one person in a day. They can share that information with other classes online and compare the average amount of water used per person per day in other parts of the country and the world. The project goes beyond merely collecting data to considering some real questions on wasted water.

Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE)
Students participate in this environmental science program by collecting local data, such as air temperature, cloud cover, and soil moisture content, and posting that data on the web site. The growing body of data is available to both scientists and students. Although only GLOBE-trained teachers can have their students post data on the web site, anyone can view or download the data.

Earth Exploration Toolbook: Using GLOBE Data to Study the Earth System
This site guides students through the process of locating and graphing web-based environmental data that has been collected in the GLOBE program. Basic concepts in Earth science are explored as students investigate a specific case study. The GLOBE Graphing Tool is used to superimpose four different environmental data sets as a single graph to show otherwise hidden relationships. Seasonal changes in soil moisture are highlighted, as are the concepts of reservoirs, the flow or flux of moisture between reservoirs, and the role of solar energy as a driver of this flux.

Journey North: A Global Study of Wildlife Migration and Seasonal Change
In this online project, students share their field observations with other students across North America. They track the coming of spring through the migration patterns of monarch butterflies, bald eagles, robins, hummingbirds, whooping cranes, and other birds and mammals; the budding of plants; changing sunlight; and other natural events.


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 4/19/2012.

Using Real Data in Life, Earth, and Physical Sciences Classes

When students interpret data and communicate inferences, they are building skills that will help them solve problems throughout their lives. With the investigations featured in these resources, students will collect data and present and analyze their findings. These skills are an important part of the Science as Inquiry strand in the National Science Education Standards.

Monarch Watch
This network of students, teachers, and researchers is dedicated to the tagging, rearing, and study of the monarch butterfly. Each spring, the network publishes a season summary that contains tag recovery data, tips and ideas for teachers and students, observations on monarch populations, and new information on monarch biology. Other projects include life history studies, flight vector analysis, and butterfly gardening. A K-8 science curriculum titled Monarchs in the Classroom (available through the mail) offers standards-based lessons.

Boil, Boil, Toil and Trouble: The International Boiling Point Project
Which do you think has the greatest influence on the boiling point of water: room temperature, elevation, volume of water, or heating device? The answer to this question requires input from people all over the world, and this online collaboration allows your students to enter the investigation. The students will boil water, under controlled conditions, record information, and post it online. They can analyze the data sent in by others worldwide and reach their own conclusions on what makes a pot of water boil.

Musical Plates: A Study of Earthquakes and Plate Tectonics
In this series of lessons, students use real-time data to study the correlation between earthquakes and tectonic plates and to determine whether or not there is a relationship between volcanoes and plate boundaries. The science and the data analysis are demanding but still within the range of upper-level middle school students. Four activities, each designed to be used in a 45-minute class period, teach students how to access and interpret real-time earthquake and volcano data. Three enrichment lessons follow in this teacher-friendly unit.


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 4/19/2012.