Using Scientific Data Sets to Teach STEM Topics, Support Student Learning, and Develop an Understanding about the Nature of Science

The session provides an overview of and stimulates discussion about current DR K-12 projects initiating STEM classroom uses of scientific data sets using geospatial technologies and data visualizations.

PI-organized Discussion

The purpose of this session is to engage participants in discussing and sharing strategies for designing classroom uses of data sets and visualization technologies, including large archives and portals of geospatial data sets, data from field sites, Web-based graphing and data analysis tools, and technologies that simulate a field environment. Each of these technologies and data sets is tied to curriculum and instructional resources. Many of the projects focus on the students’ local areas in order to build engagement and connect the data and scientific content to their prior knowledge, experience, and sense of connectedness to their environment. The projects primarily showcase uses of geospatial visualizations, which when representing authentic data, provide powerful resources for exercising spatial, temporal, quantitative, and concept-based reasoning about what is known and not known about scientific phenomena. In turn, such uses reinforce student understanding of how scientists determine which data to collect, how to collect them, when to collect them, and how to interpret and analyze them. Yet real data, whether from student field collection or from public archives and portals, can be “messy” and usually do not tell a simple story. Furthermore, there are tremendous challenges to using public data archives in science classrooms (e.g., user interface issues, data structures, technical vocabulary, and metadata incomprehensible to all but professional researchers and technicians), compounded by the rapid rate of technological change and increase in data volume.

Session goals include sharing the ways the projects employ these technologies in curriculum development and educator professional development, and ways in which learners are using these technologies to document and explore their world. Presenters seek to engage session participants in discussions of how other projects are using technological representations of field sites and planetary dynamics. The presenters lead development projects reaching a diverse range of grade levels and STEM courses on Earth and environmental science and ecology topics. Bodzin’s project, Promoting Spatial Thinking with Web-based Geospatial Technologies, uses Earth science investigations and support materials to build middle school students’ geospatial thinking skills and analysis capabilities. Zalles’ project, Studying Topography, Orographic Rainfall, and Ecosystems (STORE) with Geospatial Information Technology, employs Google Earth and ARC GIS Explorer Desktop software to study regional meteorology, ecosystem, and climate characteristics. Google Earth is also used in Almquist’s project, Cyber-enabled Earth Exploration: Development of Materials for Middle School Earth Science Instruction, for engaging middle school students in formulating claims, evidence, and reasoning to study volcanoes, earthquakes, and plate tectonics. Berkowitz and Wyner, of the projects Ecosystems and Evidence Project (Collaborative Research: Berkowitz), Data Explorations in Ecology Project (DEEP) and Ecology Disrupted: Using Real Scientific Data about Daily Life to Link Environmental Issues to Ecological Processes in Secondary School Science Classrooms (Collaborative Research: Wyner) respectively, describe case-based curricula using media and primary and secondary data to help New York City public school students study ecology and human influences. Short describes his project, Learning Science as Inquiry with the Urban Advantage: Formal-Informal Collaborations to Increase Science Literacy and Student Learning, and an ecology teaching case focusing on field research related to the zebra mussel invasion of the Hudson River ecosystem, employing Web-based graphing and data analysis tools. Field research is also the focus of Duggan-Haas’s project, Enhanced Earth System Teaching Through Regional and Local (ReaL) Earth Inquiry, in which teacher participants use a range of technologies to study and simulate field environments. Krumhansl (Oceans of Data: What is Needed to Support Students' Learning with Large Scientific Databases? (Collaborative Research: Krumhansl) provides conceptual anchors for how these projects can be viewed in light of what current cyber-infrastructures hold for supporting educational uses of data sets.