Monday, December 14, 2015

Facing the Challenge of "Looking at Data" Together; Notes and Views from Schoolyard Ecology Data Workshop 2015

Photos by Greta VanScoy
I left the Looking at Data Workshop filled with inspiration and renewed optimism for this work we do together engaging children in schoolyard research.

As you will see from the graphs and comments from our exit survey, teachers seemed share in my optimism.   At the same time, I witnessed some folks who had frustrating moments and found this work to be challenging.  

I want to deeply honor everyone who had the courage to tackle the job of Looking at Data at our teacher workshop on Dec. 3rd at Harvard Forest. 

Teacher Feedback: 

I am just going to share 2 figures from our exit survey that perhaps give the most important feedback on the workshop and then share a range of teacher comments to show both the successes and challenges teachers experienced.  

As you can see above, most teachers went away from the workshop "extremely satisfied".  In thfigurebelow, you can see that while most of our participants felt they made significant progress 
towards their main goals, notice that one participant achieved significantly less progress than the 

The teacher who expressed the least progress towards their goal stated:
  • My goal was ambitious and I had fun getting sidetracked

More teacher comments reflecting the challenges of Looking at Data:

  • The raw data from the field was very disorganized.
  • This was a "wake up" call concerning my data. I was juggling so many other factors (losing trees, student access, safety) that it turns out I did not have as much data to determine growing season as I thought.
  • I need to try and fail and fix, in order to translate the process for my students
  • I wish I had entered the data ahead of time.
  • I entered all of my data, which was a main goal for the day. I had difficulty making charts using Google Sheets because I was unfamiliar with the app. Having someone on hand who is familiar with Sheets would have been handy.

Teacher comments reflecting the successes of Looking at Data:
  • "It was very helpful and it made me more confident in my understanding and usage of the data set. It also made me feel more confident in having my students use the data that they collected."
  • I exceeded my goal and accomplished much more: calculating growing season, data entry of vp and phenology data, introducing Erin to HF and integrating her into the system, opportunity to share and collaborate with teachers and HF staff
  • I have a better idea of the type of data that is available through the LTER database. I can identify reliable sources/complete data sources versus ones that have questionable reliability or ones that are incomplete.
  • I learn more and more each time I come out... I always bring something back to my classroom that I can directly use.
  • Graphs are wonderful and an important way to look at data. Betsy's presentation helped me to understand how to better look at graphs and how important it is to select the right graph for the data. For me graph reading can be challenging so any additional information and support I receive is so important. I suspect I am not the only person out there with graph reading challenges!
Many more  comments are available on the full survey. See link at bottom of this blog entry.


Challenges we experienced throughout the day that did not show up in the Survey:
  • A first year teacher who had a high volume of data collected from her students found that there was not sufficient time to organize and submit all of the data in one session.  This is relatively common for first year teachers in the Buds, Leaves and Global Warming project.  While this project is by far our most popular, with very high success rates for data submittal, it is the most time consuming due to the sheer volume of data.  
  • A long time contributor to the Buds and Leaves study was disappointed to find that her data was unable to tell the story of the changing length of the growing season due to a variety of issues with her field site shifts resulting from maintenance dept. tree cutting and snow removal, etc.  Another major obstacle in proved to be  insufficient data at the end of each growing season.
  • Unclear protocol instructions related to showing the end of the growing season for beech and oak trees which often do not drop leaves in the fall was brought out in discussions with project staff. 
  • A Changing Forests teacher found that the student data sheets were lacking important data points/information.  He did not have enough data to create a complete data set for this survey season.    
  • Woolly Bully  teachers found that their one year of  data with zero adelgid yet found was not sufficient to create a meaningful graph. Cross site analysis was attempted but even there, graphing was not particularly worthwhile.  Project Ecologist, David Orwig, responded to these challenges by providing teachers with a broader data set to organize and graph,
  • Technical difficulties on the part of HF staff in transferring and projecting documents from Mac users slowed the final presentation of teacher created graphs.

Teacher Followup:

  • Now that they understand the process, Bud and Leaves new teachers will continue sorting, organizing, and submitting project data and emailing HF staff as questions arise.
  • New Buds and Leaves teachers will have better sense of how to organize project data throughout the field season next time.
  • Experienced Buds and Leaves teacher better understands the importance of sending students out to collect data at the end of the growing season and recording brown and crumpled beech and oak leaves as "fallen" in order to track the length of the growing season.
  • Changing Forests Teacher will be aware of the need to double check student data sheets during field season in order to get a higher quality data set in the future.
Harvard Forest Staff  Follow-up:  
  • We will work on revising the branch to tree level worksheet for easier use by teachers. Look for this in upcoming email notices.
  • We are working on revising protocol materials and email messages to make the protocol for tracking the end of the growing season for oak and beech more clear.
  • We will work to develop some guidelines for Mac users who want to share their graphs/work at HF so that we can project this work without as many interruptions in the future.
  • We will become more familiar with Google Sheets prior to our next Data Workshop in order to better guide teachers using that program.

To see the entire exit survey with many more graphs and comments go to:

Slides from Looking at Data Workshop are posted on our website at:

Stay Tuned for a follow-up document,  Looking at Data; Teacher-Created Graphs and Tables of Harvard Forest Schoolyard Ecology project data.  Look for an update with this document next month. 

THANK YOU to the Harvard Forest Staff  members who contributed to this workshop:  Betsy Colburn, Emery Boose, John O'Keefe, David Orwig, Greta VanScoy, Luca Morreale, Joshua Rapp, Clarisse Hart, Admin. crew, and Woods crew.

Kudos to Hubbard Brook Education representative, Jackie Wilson and NH Project Learning Tree Coordinator, Judy Silverberg for participating in this workshop.

Congratulations to teachers, Melanie McCracken, Louise Levy, Sally Farrow, Maryann Postans, Jana Matthai,  Mary Reed, Colleen Casey, Lori Primavera, Elisa Margarita, Warren Perdrizet, Jessica Farwell, Erin Pitkin, Meghan Lena, Sharon Desjarlais, Emilie Cushing, Thuy Bui, Sue Warburton, Mit Wanzer, and Maria Blewitt for taking your data skills to the next level!!! 

Friday, November 27, 2015

I Give Thanks For All You Contribute to Schoolyard Ecology work!!!

Happy Thanksgiving to all the teachers, students, donors, and Harvard Forest scientists and staff who contribute to our Schoolyard Ecology studies and outreach.  I truly appreciate the manifold ways so many folks add to the larger effort.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Show us your fall colors!

What are the trees in your neck of the Woods looking like today? Let's take a look at Fall color changing in New England this season

Red Maple in mid October at Harvard Forest

Leaf Color Change From New York to New Hampshire

The Phenocam Network offers us a way of leaf peeping over time and across vast geographical ranges.  

I have put together some images from across the Harvard Forest Schoolyard Ecology region to show you how foliage color varied between September 28th and Oct. 30th, which was when most of the color change occurred in these sites. 

From the Southwestern end of our Region:  

From the Southeast:  

From the Northeast: 

From North Central Massachusetts:

A Bit Further North Central: 

Northern-most View at High Elevation: 

Where does your site fit into this?  Show us your color!  If you have taken any photos of your field site this fall, please email me your photo with the date taken so I can post it here.

Thanks to Maryanne Rotelli from Hollis-Brookline High School for sending these 2 photos:

 Study Branch, 10-06-15

Hollis-Brookline High School Field Site in Southern New Hampshire 10-26-15

More about Fall Foliage:

  • News Article: Dry summer delays peak foliage as trees prep from winter.  Oct. 2015 article from the Worcester Telegram and Gazette including quotes from Harvard Forest Schoolyard Ecologist, John O'Keefe: http://www.telegram article-fall foliage

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Looking at Data Workshop Preview

What to expect in this year’s Working with Data Workshop at Harvard Forest:

How will the day be structured? One workshop will support Schoolyard Ecology teachers with beginning through advanced data management, graphing, and/or analysis skills.  We will convene as one group, spend much of the day in break out groups by skill level (self-determined by teachers) and reconvene at the end of the session  to see advanced teachers share graphs and other products they developed in the session. 

Outcomes: Educators will have materials and knowledge necessary to manage and graph project data.   Educators will have materials to support students in better understanding what the data are revealing about study themes.  Specific outcomes will vary depending on the experience level  and goals of each participant.

When is it?  Thursday, December 3, 2015

Times:   9:00a.m. -3:00p.m.

Who is Invited?     This workshop is intended for teachers who are currently participating in a Harvard Forest Schoolyard Ecology project.  We often accept requests from collaborating non-profit or governmental agencies to attend.

What Level are you?  Teachers will self-assess what levels they would like to work at.  Some guidelines are:

  •    Level 1:   First year Schoolyard teachers who would like to learn how to manage the project data their students began collecting this fall. Information  Manager Emery Boose will provide an overview of Schoolyard Ecology data management and introduce teachers to the online data base.  Teachers will have time to practice inputting this fall’s data on the database, and try graphing data using online graphing tools. Most level 1 teachers will have successfully entered some or all fall project data onto the Harvard Forest database, and go home with a graph created using the online database. 
  •    Level 2:   Teachers will work on structured schoolyard datasets to practice specific graphing skills using Excel. It is possible for teachers to choose to execute the same style graph by hand instead of on Excel if preferred.  While most level 2 teachers will have 1 or more years of schoolyard experience behind them, It is possible for first year schoolyard teachers to begin with level 2 this year as long as they input some fall data prior to confirmation of registration for this workshop. Most level 2 teachers will go home with some graphs of data from other field sites, and the understanding of how to create the same types of graphs using their own data.  Some teachers will have time to begin graphs of their own data.
  • Level 3:   Teachers will work on individual graphing goals with Harvard Forest mentors. Most Level 3 folks will have attended a data level 2 workshop previously. We ask that all level 3 teachers complete the Harvard Forest Schoolyard Ecology graphing exercises prior to this workshop on your own if you haven't participated at level 2 previously.  Graphing in level 3 can be done using Excel or by hand.  Most level 3 teachers will go home with a graph and/or organized data table to work with in the classroom.

PDPs:  Earn 6 PDPs for a 6 hour workshop

Lead Presenter:

Support Staff:

What does this look like?  

See below for a sense of the graphs Level 2 teachers will learn to create.

Go to our Data Workshop Slide Show about Looking at Data Workshop to see sample tables and graphs and photos from past level 3 sessions.

100% of teacher participants  rated the value of  the time spent working directly on graphing at  this workshop towards their teaching goals as "very useful". 
Teachers said:
  • I was able to produce items that I need to use in the near future and that set the stage for the upcoming season
  • A good use of time that allowed me to get together with other teachers and professionals who are doing the same thing. It's a great time to practice some rusty skills and to bounce ideas off of each other as far as practice and procedures.
  • Learning more and more about excel and the types of data to use and how to use it and even questions to ask the data to answer
  • (Gained) proficiency (in graphing schoolyard data), to the point of being confident that I can translate my skills into clear instructions for my students
More teacher responses on our blog post from last year’s advanced data workshop complete with quotes and graphs of teacher survey responses at: Data Workshop Blog 2014

I hope this helps clarify what the Working with Data Workshop will be like this year. Feel free to respond with any specific questions you may have.

If you want to join us, please  email Pamela at with the following info:

1.       Your name
2.       Your school
3.       Your Schoolyard project name
4.       What level you would like to participate at (1,2,or 3)
5.       Your individual goal for the workshop

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


Thanks to our Mentor Teachers and Project Scientists

27 Teachers participated in the Harvard Forest Schoolyard Ecology Summer Institute for Teachers in August. Twenty of those are beginning Schoolyard projects for the first time.   Four of our experienced teachers served as official Mentor Teachers to support new teachers along with our 3 project Scientists, and 2 Harvard Forest education staff.
Photos by Clarisse Hart

Project Ecologist David Orwig and Mentor Teacher, Kate Bennett, introducing new Schoolyard Teachers to the Woolly Bully project

Teachers from the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid group said this about what they gained from the Summer Institute: 

  • My students will be excited to participate and be responsible for a real-life scientific project (at least I hope they will be!) :) I learned a lot more about the HWA than I previously knew, and I am excited also about helping to contribute to the body of knowledge to control the pest.

  • I'm in the woolly bully group and I really enjoyed the presentation on how to do the field study. I thought it was very helpful and David was very thorough in his explanation. I feel more confidant executing this project.
  • Learning about the life cycle of the HWA, and how to identify at various life stages. How to read the forest and generally assess forest health/presence of HWA. (In response to question about the most valuable aspect of Summer Inst.)  

Project Ecologist, John O'Keefe and Mentor Teacher, Maria Blewitt showing new Schoolyard teachers how to identify trees for the Buds, Leaves, and Global Warming project.

Mentor Teacher, Lise Letellier and John O'Keefe help teachers practice labelling trees for Buds, Leaves, and Global Warming study

Teachers from the Buds, Leaves, and Global Warming group said this about what they gained from the Summer Institute: 

  • Specific modeling of how to flag branches, how to use database and graphing
  • Identifying the leaves and learning how to mark the trees so students can successfully begin collecting data.
  • Lise (mentor teacher) was great. Having the experienced teachers talking about their experience implementing the project was super helpful.

Research Forester, Emily Silver, teaches how to lay out a plot
for the Our Changing Forests project. (left)

Mentor Teacher, Melanie McCracken, helps teachers practice laying out a plot. (below)

Teachers from the Changing Forests group said this about what they gained from Summer Institute: 

  • Confidence in taking a more rigorous approach to field data collection (tree ID not just DBH measurements, site orientation); sense of connection to & importance in larger project.
  • How to begin the process of choosing the plots that my students will use for this study. THe materials that have been supplied are very valuable as well.
  • very helpful, and not overwhelming. Seems very doable in my class
  • It was very helpful having the mentor teacher (Melanie McCracken) in the field with us, giving us suggestions for what worked with her class.

 Data Manager, Emery Boose, previews the Online Database

Teachers said this about what they gained from the Data presentation:

  • Great ideas, and a great support system to implement this project right away in the classroom. I am especially excited about the graphing capabilities of the database and the tremendous resources available on the website.
  • The value of long term data collection (in response to what was most valuable aspect of the Summer Institute)

What is the most valuable thing you will take away from today's workshop?

  • Confidence that I can translate the protocol to success for my students
  • That this is very doable in my curriculum and does not require an immense amount of background. I did expect it to be more overwhelming. Now, I'm just excited!
  • Dedicated time to learn from others about how to setup and implement this study on our field site and in the classroom
  • Knowing how to do the set up will be very valuable!
  • Project is achievable without the necessity of lots of forestry experience. There are also many people who can support my efforts as I move through the project.
  • A new science project students in our schoolyard habitat program can participate in as citizen scientists.
  • Fits nicely with AP Environmental Science
  • Fantastic program!!!

      • Thanks All! 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

HF Schoolyard Ecology-NGSS Links

How do Harvard Forest Schoolyard Eco Projects Align with Next Generation Science Standards? 

Okay, if you are like me, you are SO SICK of seeing commentary on NGSS everywhere and find it a bit of OVERKILL. That said, I'm hoping that this might be of help to some teachers who are in districts and states where they must show the links to NGSS to administrators.

In short, the best way that Harvard Forest Schoolyard Ecology assists teachers in meeting the NGSS standards is by providing a way for your students to engage in authentic science practices.

Science and Engineering Practices in the NGSS

The following practices fit most closely with the way our Schoolyard Ecology projects are executed:

Practice 1 Asking Questions and Defining Problems
 Students at any grade level should be able to ask questions of each other about the texts they read, the features of the phenomena they observe, and the conclusions they draw from their models or scientific investigations. (NRC Framework 2012, p. 56) 

Note: Schoolyard projects are based on study questions that have been developed by scientists at Harvard Forest.  We encourage teachers to engage students in developing questions about the protocols themselves, related text, what they observe, and the conclusions they can draw.

To find specific grade level connections, see the complete document showing HF Eco alignment with NGSS on our website at: HF Schoolyard-NGSS links

Practice 3 Planning and Carrying Out Investigations 
Students should have opportunities to plan and carry out several different kinds of investigations during their K-12 years. At all levels, they should engage in investigations that range from those structured by the teacher—in order to expose an issue or question that they would be unlikely to explore on their own (e.g., measuring specific properties of materials)— to those that emerge from students’ own questions. (NRC Framework, 2012, p. 61)

Note:  This is the big one that fits most perfectly with every student/teacher that participates in our projects.  Every student has the opportunity to carry out a field investigation that has been structured by a team consisting of a professional ecologist, data manager,  HF educator, and classroom teachers. We always encourage teachers to allow students to plan and carry out investigations that emerge from their own questions.  Some of our teachers already incorporate this more inquiry based approach along with the structured projects.

To find specific grade level connections, see: HF Schoolyard-NGSS links

Practice 4 Analyzing and Interpreting Data

 Once collected, data must be presented in a form that can reveal any patterns and relationships and that allows results to be communicated to others. Because raw data as such have little meaning, a major practice of scientists is to organize and interpret data through tabulating, graphing, or statistical analysis. Such analysis can bring out the meaning of data—and their relevance—so that they may be used as evidence. (NRC Framework, 2012, p. 61-62)

Note: This is another excellent fit with HF projects.  We put a lot of attention on data management and analysis.  Schoolyard Eco projects allow students to practice organizing and presenting authentic data that they have collected in the field.  An online database coordinated by a professional data manager at Harvard Forest allows teachers and/or students to input data online, where it is shared with a large network of schools and the general public.  An online graphing tool allows students to easily create graphs of their own data and/or related data from other sites.  Teachers are invited to data workshops at Harvard Forest led by our data manager and project ecologists. At these workshops, teachers learn more about how to choose the best graph for the story they would like to tell about their data, and methods they can use to create those graphs either using the online graphing tools, Excel, or hand graphing. Teachers are then able to guide students through that process in their classrooms.

To find specific grade level connections, see: HF Schoolyard-NGSS links

Practice 5 Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking

Although there are differences in how mathematics and computational thinking are applied in science…, mathematics often brings these two fields together by enabling engineers to apply the mathematical form of scientific theories and by enabling scientists to use powerful information technologies designed by engineers. Both kinds of professionals can thereby accomplish investigations and analyses and build complex models, which might otherwise be out of the question. (NRC Framework, 2012, p. 65)

Note:  Graphing and data analysis as described above in practice 4 notes involves mathematical thinking and are therefore included in mathematics frameworks/standards as well as science standards.  Teachers always have the option to do more with statistics, math, and computer skills to deepen this experience.

To find specific grade level connections, see: HF Schoolyard-NGSS links

Practice 6 Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

 The goal of science is to construct explanations for the causes of phenomena. Students are expected to construct their own explanations, as well as apply standard explanations they learn about from their teachers or reading. The Framework states the following about explanation: “The goal of science is the construction of theories that provide explanatory accounts of the world. A theory becomes accepted when it has multiple lines of empirical evidence and greater explanatory power of phenomena than previous theories.”(NRC Framework, 2012, p. 52)

Note:  This is a step we encourage teachers to take, using Schoolyard studies as a basis for constructing explanations for what is happening in a given field study and related scientific phenomena such as global climate change, decline in tree populations, effects of invasive species, carbon cycling, photosynthesis,  seasonal water levels, etc.

To find specific grade level connections, see: HF Schoolyard-NGSS links

Practice 8 Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information
Any education in science and engineering needs to develop students’ ability to read and produce domain-specific text. As such, every science or engineering lesson is in part a language lesson, particularly reading and producing the genres of texts that are intrinsic to science and engineering. (NRC Framework, 2012, p. 76)

Note:  We strongly encourage teachers to engage students in reading and communicating about project themes and outcomes.  Many of the lesson plans teachers have submitted that are available on our website, include these components in the form of recommended reading and related questions; Powerpoint presentations, videos, and scientific posters created by students, etc.

To find specific grade level connections, see: HF Schoolyard-NGSS links

NGSS Disciplinary Core Idea Progression Core Concepts: 
There are many links that can be made between Schoolyard Ecology projects and NGSS core concepts.  These concepts must be taught by teachers as supplemental lessons that relate to the project themes.  Most teachers who participate in Schoolyard Ecology already teach lessons that tie to our project themes in order to deepen student understanding of their field studies.  I have pulled out the NGSS core concepts that I feel best relate to our projects in the complete NGSS-HF Schoolyard document available on our website at:   HF Schoolyard-NGSS links

NGSS Crosscutting Concepts

All of the following concepts apply to Schoolyard Eco project themes. How these concepts are integrated and at what levels, is dependent on how the teacher chooses to integrate these concepts in lesson plans and activities related to project themes.

1. Patterns. Observed patterns of forms and events guide organization and classification, and they prompt questions about relationships and the factors that influence them. 
2. Cause and effect: Mechanism and explanation. Events have causes, sometimes simple, sometimes multifaceted. A major activity of science is investigating and explaining causal relationships and the mechanisms by which they are mediated. Such mechanisms can then be tested across given contexts and used to predict and explain events in new contexts. 
3. Scale, proportion, and quantity. In considering phenomena, it is critical to recognize what is relevant at different measures of size, time, and energy and to recognize how changes in scale, proportion, or quantity affect a system’s structure or performance.
 4. Systems and system models. Defining the system under study—specifying its boundaries and making explicit a model of that system—provides tools for understanding and testing ideas that are applicable throughout science and engineering. 
5. Energy and matter: Flows, cycles, and conservation. Tracking fluxes of energy and matter into, out of, and within systems helps one understand the systems’ possibilities and limitations. 
6. Structure and function. The way in which an object or living thing is shaped and its substructure determine many of its properties and functions. 
7. Stability and change. For natural and built systems alike, conditions of stability and determinants of rates of change or evolution of a system are critical elements of study. 

Teachers- Please provide us with feedback as to how you see the best fits between NGSS and HF Schoolyard. 

What have I missed?  What changes do you recommend to our documentation of NGSS alignment?
Do you have any examples of "models" that your students have created related to project themes?  

What else do you have to say on this topic?  

Thursday, June 18, 2015


Some views and comments from teachers who participated in last year's HF-LTER Schoolyard Ecology Summer Institute for Teachers 

Hoping you will spread the word to some new folks to join us this summer on Aug. 20th at Harvard Forest. Share the link to this blog with any teachers who might be interested in getting their kids involved this coming year.

Please share this HF schooleco blog link with teachers who might consider joining a Schoolyard project this summer.  

Register by downloading the flyer and registration form from our website at: teacher registration form and flyer