Connecting Classrooms, Sharing Real Data

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 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, check out the web sites from the Global School Network (GSN) and KIDPROJ. 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. The GSN includes a template to help you begin planning a project. You can also subscribe to both web sites’ listservs to get e-mail updates on new projects when they are listed.

A great way to introduce this type of project to students would be to read the book The Mystery of the Hummingbirds. This book, part of the Elementary GLOBE project, is the story of elementary students who investigate how their school garden changes throughout the year. In fall, the hummingbirds that had been in the garden in spring and summer were gone. Where did they go? The class talks to friends and family across the United States and Costa Rica and asks them to make observations in their own gardens and back yards and share their findings. Whether read as a class, individually, or in small groups, the story is an ideal way to connect children’s literature to inquiry-based science.


Featured Projects

These six projects were selected because they exemplify the best science collaborative projects on the web, engage the youngest of learners, and support science inquiry and learning.

Journey North: Using Tulips to Track the Arrival of Spring
Dates
: All year
Grades
: K to 6
Project Summary
: Students across the northern hemisphere track the growth of the same plant as the season changes from winter to spring. They discover how temperatures, sunlight, geographic location, and other variables influence the growth of plants – and the full array of seasonal changes that take place in the springtime.

Students plant Red Emperor tulips in the fall and then keep a journal, collect data, and share the data with others across North America throughout the year. A real-time map shows where all the gardens have been planted and when the tulips emerge and bloom. Classes can also choose a “Partner Garden” somewhere else in the northern hemisphere. As the seasons change, these classes compare weather, climate, geography and other variables and predict where tulips will emerge first and why. Four printable nonfiction booklets and slide shows provide background information at a simplified reading level. They’re designed to help build reading skills and support standards. In addition, there are news and information from Journey North classrooms and scientists, interdisciplinary lessons and activities, challenge questions, and more.

Square of Life
Dates: Spring and Fall
Ages
: K to 8
Project Summary
: This collaborative project allows students to share information about the plants, animals and nonliving objects found in their schoolyard environment with other students from around the country and the world. Students plot square meters in their school yards and record the living and nonliving things that they find. They submit this information to the project database for all to view. Students then compare and contrast their information with that submitted by other classes and prepare a brief report or presentation that will be posted to the project web site. The Teacher’s Guide includes lessons; social studies, engineering, and language arts extension activities; and information for teachers who wish to conduct this project in an urban environment. A Student Gallery contains examples of student work from previous years including 2012.

Bucket Buddies
Dates
: Spring and Fall
Grades
: 1 to 6
Project Summary
: In this project students attempt to determine whether or not the same freshwater macroinvertebrates (organisms that can be seen with a hand lens) will be found in different locations, both around the country and around the world. Participating classes collect samples from ponds near their schools and use a variety of resources to identify the macroinvertebrates in the samples. The students share their identifications with other project participants, and they use the collected data to answer the central question: Did classrooms sampling freshwater sources around the world find the same organisms? Finally, the students publish their conclusions in a report that is posted to the project web site. The lessons provide procedures, links to identification sheets and field guides, ideas on how to analyze the data, and guidelines for preparing and submitting the final report. Project-related language arts activities give students a way to practice both their creative and expository writing skills and, at the same time, process the information they gained as they worked through the project. Student-published Identification Reports are available from 2003 to present.

Wonderful World of Weather
Dates
: Ongoing
Grades
: 3 to 6
Project Summary
: 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.

Down the Drain
Dates
: Ongoing
Grades
: 4 to 8
Project Summary
: How much water do you use every day in your home? Would you be surprised to learn that, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, 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? By analyzing water-usage data from people around the world, your students will be able to see how their water use compares to others’ and determine what they might do to use less water. After students have completed the Down the Drain lessons, a form is submitted that includes aggregated data from the entire class. Archived and real-time data from schools can be viewed online or downloaded in Excel.

The GLOBE Program
Dates
: Ongoing
Grades
: 4 to 12
Project Summary
: 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.


This article was written by Kimberly Lightle. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Kimberly at beyondpenguins@msteacher.org.

Copyright April 2008 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license. This page was last updated July 16, 2012.

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