Hudson River Data Jam: Creatively engaging students in understanding large data sets
We have found that teachers routinely struggle with integrating large data sets into their classrooms, and while students enjoy collecting their own data, they struggle to work with secondary data sets. By encouraging students to participate in a Data Jam, we are providing a motivation for engaging with secondary data while exploring a topic of interest. The Data Jam is a competition for middle and high school students to interpret existing data sets and to communicate their findings to a general audience in a creative way. Modeled on the Desert Data Jam at the Asombro Institute, the Cary Institute has now run two years of Hudson Data Jams in New York, and two years of Baltimore Data Jams in Maryland, with hundreds of student participants. Using either provided data sets or those from EcoTrends, students are challenged to explain trends or comparisons through art, music, or theater, and then share their work with others. Integrating the arts into STEM has been shown to improve students’ spatial-temporal reasoning, originality and abstract thought, and we were interested in understanding whether participating in a Data Jam improves students’ scientific reasoning, data literacy skills, or increases their motivation working with secondary data.
Based on results from the 2014 Hudson Data Jam, most students participated in the competition because they wanted to work with data and be creative; receiving extra credit and prize money was not weighed as heavily. Students reported that their knowledge and interest in the Hudson River watershed increased significantly, but their confidence in working with data did not. We are eager to share the results of our 2015 Data Jam, where we will conduct evaluations of students who are and are not participating in the competition, and where we will measure students’ scientific reasoning, data literacy skills, and motivation directly. We believe that participating in the competition will positively affect students.