Building Student Confidence by Investigating Bomb Cyclone Data

Data Labs in the Classroom:

Teaching Tips from the Community

Dr. Melissa Hicks, OOI Data Lab Fellow 2020


Hello!  My name is Melissa Hicks and I am a Professor in the Chemistry and Physical Sciences Department at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, NY. I use the Dynamic Air-Sea Interactions OOI Data Exploration in my Introduction to Oceanography Laboratory class. This Data Exploration shows the interaction between atmospheric conditions and the ocean’s surface during the “Bomb Cyclone” that hit the northeastern U.S. in 2018.

I use this Data Exploration after the students have worked through assignments on atmospheric cells, winds, and currents. I want students to get comfortable making observations and then creating a hypothesis. To this end, I leave the cause of the changes observed in the wave height, wave period, wind and current speed as a mystery that the students are to untangle using the OOI data and their knowledge of atmospheric conditions. 

Learning Goals

My major learning goal of this Data Exploration is for students to use the Concept Invention data to create a hypothesis and then use the Application data to test and re-evaluate their hypothesis.  

If you have never used an OOI Data Exploration, this particular one is fairly straightforward and I have used it in remote lab settings as well as in person lab classes. However, this should be done after students have been exposed to atmospheric cells, major wind belts, and pressure cells.  


As a class, the students and I go to the NOAA buoy website and collect information on the wind speed, wave height, wave period, etc. for both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. I also do this when the lab is real-time-remote, but I would not do this if the lab was asynchronous online. Unfortunately, the NOAA buoys go off-line often, which creates frustration for students when they are working asynchronously – but in the classroom, it adds to the experience of collecting real-time data.

In their lab groups, students go to the online Dynamic Air-Sea Interactions activity, using this lab worksheet. Starting with the Exploration, they become oriented to the data set—X and Y variables, being able to scroll along the data to see exact dates and information. I direct them to the Data Tips and the images that show where and with what equipment the data were collected. After this bit of orientation, I let the students answer the questions and move through the Concept Invention and Application.

Concept Invention Interactive Widget


Student Experience

While in the classroom, I walk around and listen to the students. I want them to create a hypothesis, and sometimes they ask me for help, but I do want them to think on their own about what the data is illustrating. Often students will hypothesize a Tsunami, so I ask them some questions such as ‘Are Tsunami caused by wind or something else?’ ‘What type of plate boundary is close to the location that this data was collected—does it produce the earthquakes necessary to create a Tsunami?’ I use these leading questions to really get them to think about the data.

In general, the students hypothesize a storm  – and with the Application data set that includes barometric pressure and rain data, they are confident in their hypothesis. That confidence is noticeable in the classroom, especially if there was a debate on whether the data was showing a Tsunami or Tornado versus a storm. Those that fought for their hypothesis are really proud and high-five and just seem generally thrilled. Those students that were in error with their hypothesis concede that the data does support a large storm!

Teaching Tips

  1. If in the classroom or real-time remote, you can use both the NOAA data and the OOI Data Exploration to help students understand atmospheric and surface ocean interactions. You will be able to help the students navigate the off-line buoys and provide guidance on how to navigate the OOI Data Exploration. In real-time remote, you can create breakout rooms for them to work on the data as small groups and pop in and out to help or hear the discussion of hypotheses.
  2. If using this in an asynchronous setting, you would need to develop an introduction so that students would know how to use the OOI Data Labs website. Unfortunately, the students would not be able to work as a group and so some of the fun discussion is really lost. For those students who hypothesize a Tsunami, most tend to come to the correct cause at the end, but there are always a few who struggle or really hold-on to the Tsunami idea.  
  3. I would recommend that students work in groups; if this isn’t possible, try and pause the class before the Application to have students describe their hypotheses. This way you can get a discussion going even during times of social distancing.

Download this 14-minute video in which Melissa walks you through this Data Exploration and shares her teaching tips.