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!!!