LTER Education and Outreach looking ahead to 2015

Network News Winter 2014, Vol. 27 No. 4

It all started with a simple question from Alan Berkowitz: “How do representatives throughout the network encourage K-12 teachers to use datasets developed from student-collected data?”  The flurry of responses from educations at the various Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites across the country indicated this was a topic requiring further discussion on our monthly call. 

The monthly Education and Outreach video-conferences fulfill a two-fold mission: 1) share project, committee updates, and network news; and 2) maintain a level of preparedness for the forthcoming LTER All Scientists Meeting (ASM) in September 2015. These regular monthly check-ins ensure the Education and Outreach Committee (EOC) stays abreast of current issues as well as document topics better suited for face-to-face dialogue, such as best practices for using long-term datasets in the K-12 education arena. This advance work will leave more time for discussions, project development and committee work at the ASM.

Which brings us back to Alan’s question. Sites across the network report varying degrees of success with teachers using LTER datasets with their students. One common thread is that datasets pre-packaged in a ready-to-use format are most likely to be used by teachers. Examples include the dataset in the LTER Educational Digital Library (LEDL) and on the GK-12 funded Data Nuggets at the Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) LTER website. Teachers often lack the time or confidence to work with a spreadsheet of raw data, so pre-digestion appears to be a factor determining whether the data will be used in the classroom.

A good example of the use of such data are the increasingly popular “Data Jam” competitions. Since the Jornada Basin (JRN) LTER organized the inaugural Desert Data Jam Competition in 2012, the Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES) and Florida Coastal Everglades (FCE) LTER sites have held their own versions of the competition. In the Data Jam, students analyze and present information from site-generated and Eco-Trends datasets, both distilled prior to student use. In addition, several sites conduct professional development workshops instructing teachers in data management, analysis, and interpretation. Teachers who attend these trainings are more likely to use the datasets. 

The second commonality among the responses was the challenges inherent in managing the data from student investigations. Sites have had varying degrees of success with teacher-input of class data and the use of the data. Development and maintenance of an easy-to-use system is imperative if the data are to be used by teachers. 

Clearly there is no singular best method to inject dataset use into a K-12 classroom. It is evident each site has specific practices and techniques that would benefit other sites. Management of student-collected data is also a concern and a challenge that is being resolved in different ways by sites across the network.  While discussions will continue during our monthly conference calls, data use in the K-12 classroom will be one of the main topics for the 2015 ASM, where we will leverage the collective power of the network to tackle this and other issues.