Academic journal article The Science Teacher

DATA JAMS: Promoting Data Literacy and Science Engagement While Encouraging Creativity

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

DATA JAMS: Promoting Data Literacy and Science Engagement While Encouraging Creativity

Article excerpt

Thousands of students around the country have participated in activities using the Data Jam model, creating poetry, songs, videos, or sculpture to improve their data literacy, gain knowledge of local science research, and creatively express their findings. This article introduces the Data Jam model and how teachers can use it in classroom or after-school settings, supported by vignettes of student projects and feedback from teachers and students.

Data is the lens through which we increasingly view our world, and scientific data literacy skills are a key component of the Next Generation Science Standards' (NGSS) science and engineering practices (Berkowitz, Ford, and Brewer 2005). Understanding how to engage with data, however, can be challenging for students. Most have limited experience with authentic scientific data sets, and find them complex and intimidating (Ben-Zvi and Garfield, 2004).

Clear, creative communication is crucial to helping students (and the general public) understand data and scientific findings. Interest in creative and artistic science communication tools has increased, as evidenced by the proliferation of projects such as the SciShow YouTube video series and the Dance Your Ph.D. contest from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (see "On the web.") Inspired by this movement, four science education organizations have developed the Data Jam model to engage high school students in learning about ecological research while igniting their creativity. Students analyze and interpret environmental data sets, then communicate their findings through a creative medium. This approach also supports the STEM to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) movement, which was initially championed by the Rhode Island School of Design as a way to capitalize on the creative synergy between art and scientific disciplines (e.g., LaMore et al. 2013).

The origin of the Data Jam model

The Asombro Institute for Science Education, which coordinates K--12 education programs for the Jornada Basin Long-Term Ecological Research site in New Mexico, organized the first Desert Data Jam in 2012. Inspired by Flip Flop Fly Ball: An Infographic Baseball Adventure (Robinson 2011), Asombro staff wondered if students could use ecological and sociological data to develop creative projects such as the infographics found in the book.

The Data Jam model has since spread across the country, reaching thousands of students. Most Data Jams have been sponsored by long-term ecological research (LTER) sites such as the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, Jornada Basin, and Luquillo (Puerto Rico). These sites belong to a network funded by the National Science Foundation to study long-term and large-scale ecological phenomena. In New York, the Hudson Data Jam is sponsored by the nonprofit Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. While Data Jams can strengthen connections between science institutions and schools, we believe the Data Jam model has the flexibility to be adapted to any classroom, including those who want to try Data Jam independently.

Each site in our network has implemented the Data Jam model differently based on the needs of local teachers and school districts. However, all Data Jams share six features:

* Authentic, local data sets are provided to students. Data can be chosen to align with important topics in the curriculum. Students may be given spreadsheets of data or pointed to data portals such as EcoTrends (see "On the web.")

* Students engage in scaffolded and supported data exploration. Students ask and explore answerable questions about their data. Typically, this involves looking at a trend over time or comparing variables. Students create graphs by hand or using graphing software.

* Students create a scientific product that includes claim-evidence-reasoning. This can take the form of a written report, poster, or presentation board. …

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