Web resources for real science data for use in kids' science classes?
July 8, 2013 4:01 AM   Subscribe

I am a science teacher creating a professional development workshop for other science teachers. The topic is along the lines of "getting real scientific data and measurements from the web for your students to work with". The goal is to find "real" scientific data from the world beyond the classroom, that might make for more compelling classroom activities and investigations in high school and middle school science classes, such as biology/ecology, earth sciences, astronomy, physics, chemistry, etc. The data can be in the form of videos or images to be measured and analyzed, or raw numbers to crunch, or whatever. The data needs to be freely available on the web. Examples inside...

The data or measurements can be simple or sophisticated. This could include anything from:
  • SIMPLE: making observations of timing from videos of phenomena like roller coasters or race cars or cheetahs running across a plain (calculate speeds once you use google maps to determine the distance)
  • SOPHISTICATED: comparing satellite images of the same area from different dates to measure deforestation
  • raw data from weather stations, stream-monitoring stations, etc. to graph and analyze
  • NASA measurements from planetary probes or satellites
  • ???
I have a number of ideas and resources already, but I know there is much that I haven't thought of. I am also open to suggestions of web-based tools that might facilitate measurement or data-sharing.
posted by chr1sb0y to Education (16 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
The guardian's Datablog provides links to some of the data sets featured. A recent one on BP energy statistics includes a data download.
posted by freya_lamb at 4:16 AM on July 8, 2013

Dryad is a data repository that might be helpful to you, because data are linked to the corresponding journal article (so it's fairly easy to get a sense of what meaning can be made), and data are nearly all CC0-licensed (free to use). Tending toward the more sophisticated end of your spectrum, I'd guess, but it's not all "big" stuff.
posted by unknowncommand at 4:37 AM on July 8, 2013

Wikidata might have some useful data sets.

My own background is energy, so the EIA Electricity Data, NREL's Renewable Resource Data Center, and IESO (Ontario)'s Hourly Generator Output & Capability (especially the Wind Power in Ontario data sets) are my playgrounds.
posted by scruss at 4:38 AM on July 8, 2013

Oh also the UK Met Office site has lots of sets in it's climate section, you need to register to download the available DEFRA if you want to play with it yourself, but there's lots to explore just in the site.
posted by freya_lamb at 4:38 AM on July 8, 2013

...and also from the Met Office: Hadley centre observation datasets.
posted by freya_lamb at 4:47 AM on July 8, 2013

"NOAA's National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) is responsible for preserving, monitoring, assessing, and providing public access to the Nation's treasure of climate and historical weather data and information."

Weather data sets.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:56 AM on July 8, 2013

The US National Ice Center provides an archive of downloadable google earth files showing the "ice edges" and "marginal ice zones" for the arctic and antarctic, daily over the past few years. Perhaps you could get students to plot the land area covered by each zone over time, and pick out the seasonal variations?

Thinking of seasonal variations, while it's stretching the definition of "scientific data" away from what I think you want, Google Trends can give some interesting data. E.g. the search for "mictochondria" shows strong and very regular seasonal variation (with the main peaks at the start of the academic year and the start of exam season), and seasonal diseases e.g. influenza show the patterns you'd expect. By default it shows you a graph on the website, but you should be able to download the data in .csv format if you're signed in with a google account.

Several sites online will give you solar weather reports, including sunspot activity and solar wind strength. If you go to this one and click on the "FTP Site" link, you'll see a list of text files that contain CSV-formatted measurements of the energy hitting each polar region, several times each day since 1979.
posted by metaBugs at 5:00 AM on July 8, 2013

You may also be interested in Zooinverse.com, which is a kind of crowd-sourced science and research site.
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:23 AM on July 8, 2013

I think what you want to get is the Pocket Ref. It's got stuff in there you wouldn't believe. Densities of materials from iron to wood to apples. Important trig regulations. Atmospheric pressure values at various altitudes. Melting points of various materials. You name it. It's got a ton of non-science stuff in there too, but it'd be an absolute bonanza of things for kids to investigate and prove on their own.

I'd think about a lesson plan this way. Say a density table. Throw the table up on a projector. Then divide the kids into groups of two or three and give them each a material, a beaker with water (to measure volume) and a scale. Have them take the density of their object. Then have the class create their own table. Getting the numbers this way should give the kids a really hands-on approach to understanding what density is. You could both replicate the table in the Pocket Ref, plus add your own materials.

There are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of lists in the thing which could be investigated this way.
posted by valkyryn at 7:39 AM on July 8, 2013

Might be too highpowered, but the Stanford Microarray Database exists.
posted by PMdixon at 8:01 AM on July 8, 2013

You could do Fourier decomposition on water gage data to extract tidal periods? Memail me if you want more information about how to do that.

This is cool because you can pull out a nonlinear wave signature for things like storm surge.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:05 AM on July 8, 2013

This website lists lots of available datasets for number crunching. Getting them into a format usable for kids may be non-trivial.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:46 AM on July 8, 2013

For Earth science stuff, IRIS has an enormous repository of seismic data. You're probably not going to want raw seismograms (you'd need some specialized software to deal with them), but there are a number of interesting visualizations (check out the Iris Seismic Monitor for a live, interactive map of earthquake locations). I particularly like this sort of thing -- an animation of the motions associated with a Sea of Okhotsk earthquake as detected by the USArray instrumentation.
posted by irrelephant at 9:10 AM on July 8, 2013

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey has some really excellent activities using the actual SDSS data. I've used many of the advanced projects as labs at the college level, and they're great. I think most of them would be doable in a high school astro class. There are more basic activities as well.
posted by BrashTech at 9:52 AM on July 8, 2013

NASA and NOAA's GLOBE project has been running since 1994 or 1995 and has tons of data and visualizing apps. The data are also largely collected by partner K-12 schools across the country.

(I ran one of the first GLOBE programs in DC almost 20 years ago and had a tremendous amount of fun with it.)
posted by yellowcandy at 2:10 PM on July 8, 2013

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