Science education gains another link to real-world applications with new institute

science-data

Students track marine animals’ progress using real science data.

School administrators and curriculum directors constantly search for ways to help teachers give students meaningful learning experiences linked to real-world implications and outcomes, especially in science and math. One such way to do that is to work in partnership with professionals who use science data each day.

Now, a new resource from the nonprofit Education Development Center (EDC) aims to help prepare U.S. students to analyze and extract meaningful and useful information from science data. The Oceans of Data Institute taps into the academic, research, and professional communities to bring big data applications to K-16 science teaching and learning.

EDC staff are working to develop a combination of curriculum materials and digital tools that will help students analyze, understand, and apply data in science education and learning. Staff work with school leaders and curriculum directors and teach them how to equip teachers to examine science data with their students and how to link that science data to practical applications.

(Next page: Science data resources for students)

The student science data program was spurred by the Ocean Observatories Initiative, funded by the National Science Foundation, which puts probes into the ocean and collects data in various forms, said Ruth Krumhansl, the senior research scientist in EDC’s Learning and Teaching Division. Krumhansl directs the Oceans of Data Institute.

“We want to make more digital scientific data available, which really changes the way science is done,” Krumhansl said. “It changes things when it’s shareable, and it also brings a huge opportunity to science students, to potentially start using real data in the classroom.”

The Oceans of Data Institute will disseminate research and best practices focused on exactly how to involve science students, and students in general, in analyzing and working with big data, she added.

Krumhansl and her team worked with scientists at various research institutes and marine labs to come up with an idea to design and build an interface that would facilitate students working with science data.

The team, working with the Hopkins Marine Station at Stanford University, also developed Ocean Tracks, in which students use science data from marine animals to investigate marine migrations within the ocean. Ocean Tracks was first piloted in the spring, is in a second pilot version this fall, and will expand to more schools if a second phase of funding is awarded.

Using Ocean Tracks, students work with an interface to track various data surrounding tagged marine animals. This data includes the animal’s speed, depth, and the surface water temperature. Science students examine all the data to make inferences and gain understanding about how the overall changing ocean conditions impact marine animals. They also gain real-world science experience when they consider if certain parts of the ocean need to be protected and how animals react to these ocean conditions.

“It has students thinking about why things happen,” Krumhansl said.