Students Own the Data
- by Heidi Duehmig
Heidi Duehmig is a fifth grade mathematics and science teacher at Berwick Academy, South Berwick ME. Heidi used the EaSiE “Adopt a Buoy” lesson as a supplement to her weather unit. Her students developed a sense of ownership as they collected real-time buoy data and used that data to develop skills in graphing and data analysis.
“Can anyone else adopt our buoys?” asked an excited fifth grader. I had to admit that we didn’t have exclusive rights to the buoys, BUT each child in my class was going to become an expert on the weather and wave conditions at their particular buoy. That was acceptable to the children, and they continued eagerly asking questions and comparing buoy locations as we began this project.
"Using buoy data allowed me to integrate the fifth grade math and science that I teach."
I became involved with the EaSiE project after a colleague who was already part of the project suggested I join. There were new openings for science and math teachers. She thought the opportunity would be a good supplement to my already existing weather unit, and she was right. I was fascinated with the idea of seasons in the Gulf of Maine. I knew and taught about seasons on land, but I had never thought about seasons in a body of water. The experience has made me a better teacher, which has benefited my students at the K-12 independent school in Maine where I teach.
As part of my science weather unit and to review data and graphing for math, I had each fifth grader collect data from a buoy in the Gulf of Maine for a few weeks in February and March. After the initial data collection I decided I wanted to have the students collect buoy data again in May and June so that we could do some comparisons between winter and spring. I helped the students find the website and gave them instructions on how to collect the data. I gave the children a data table and asked them to obtain data for date, time, wind speed and gust, air temperature, water temperature, and wave height. We checked in daily, and I allowed students to share information about their buoy. At the end of the collection time, I had students interpret their data by writing observations and graphing air and water temperatures. In May and June, I asked the students to graph wind speed and wave height and continue interpreting their data. Students were required to compare their winter data with spring data.
Just by pure luck I had a student teacher in my classroom whose family operates a whale watch boat. The fifth graders were thrilled to find out that he had actually used buoy data to determine conditions in the Gulf of Maine for his boat. He educated students on the fact that other boaters, fishermen, and meteorologists use the data, also. The students’ original thought of a field trip to see the buoys quickly ended when the student teacher told them how many hours or days of travel would be required to get to each buoy.
One of the concepts students learn about during the weather unit is the heating and cooling rates of land and water. Water takes longer to heat but holds its heat longer than land, which quickly heats up and cools down. When I taught this concept in the past, students often wanted to say that the water temperature was always warm. Understanding that the water stayed more moderate than land was a hard concept for them. By collecting buoy data, students were able to concretely see that the water temperature stayed more consistent than the air. They were then able to apply that understanding while comparing water and land temperatures. The buoy on Isle of Shoals is on land and does not collect water temperature data. When we compared the Isle of Shoals buoy air temperatures to the air and water temperatures of the other buoys, students understood how even a small island could be warmer than the water temperature around it once things started heating up in June.
One of the fifth graders’ favorite topics was wave height. Many of the children like to surf so determining which buoy had the largest wave height was a favorite pastime of theirs. I brought the discussion around to wind and wave height, asking the students if they noticed any similarities between the data and encouraging them to look for patterns. This piqued their curiosity, and they were able to use their data to support claims about wave height and wind speed. Students noticed that wind speed and wave height often increased on the same day. At other times wind speed increased a day before the wave height increased. On certain days and at individual buoys, the data did not show a link between wind speed and wave height. What I saw as most valuable for the students was that they were grappling with and making sense of the data.
As we began our second round of data collecting in May, some of the children were excited to have the same buoy for collecting weather data while others were hoping to switch buoys. I did have each child keep the original buoy, but I offered an extra credit option of adopting an “international” buoy. I had many takers for this the first day and as the week continued. After a child heard about his friend’s international buoy he wanted one! Though not all technically international, we called the buoys “international” if they were not located in the Gulf of Maine. Students had buoys in the Gulf of Alaska, English Channel, Mediterranean Sea, and off the coast of North Carolina, California, Hawaii, Mexico, Peru, and South Korea. Students used the National Data Buoy Center website (www.ndbc.noaa.gov) to obtain their information. As part of the extra credit assignment students graphed their water and air temperatures and compared the data to their buoy in the Gulf of Maine. They also determined the mean, median, mode, and range for one data category and wrote observations about their findings.
“Buoy of the Day” is how we started each science class. For this, a student went to the front of the room, used the Gulf of Maine map to show where the buoy was located, and told us about the data. We then compared data with other buoys. I also allowed students with international buoys to share interesting information, and we compared those with the Gulf of Maine. I had to limit international buoy reports to two per day so that we could move on to other activities in science. Students were so excited to share their information that we could have easily used the entire class period discussing buoy data!
Data and graphing is part of my math curriculum while learning about weather concepts and is a requirement for fifth grade science. Obtaining, graphing and analyzing data is an important part of any science program. Using buoy data allowed me to integrate the fifth grade math and science that I teach.
My experience with finding data on the Internet is that it is often presented in a way that is overwhelming for fifth grade students. I was thrilled that the buoy data is a source ten-year-olds can easily obtain and understand. Buoy data held their interest because it was real-time data, and each child felt a sense of ownership over his/her buoy. One of the girls was excited to tell the class that she is taking a boat trip along the coast of Maine this summer and thinks she will be able to see some of the buoys. I believe it is important to get students excited about what they are learning, and this project allowed me to accomplish that goal.