Data Labs in the Classroom:
Teaching Tips from the Community
Sara Smith, OOI Data Lab Fellow 2020
My name is Sara Smith and I teach at Bellingham (WA) Technical College in the Fisheries and Aquaculture Sciences program. We are a trades program focusing on workforce training in salmon and trout hatchery production, shellfish aquaculture, and marine/freshwater environmental monitoring.
As a trades program, I try to make my lessons as hands-on as possible. This is often difficult in oceanography without access to a boat and high-tech sampling gear.
Using the OOI Data Labs is a great solution since students look at real-world oceanography data. I find my students learn best when I make clear connections between what they are learning and how it is important to their future careers, such as this lesson based on the Data Exploration Chlorophyll-a in Temperate Zones of the Ocean.
The optional pre-class and homework assignments associated with this lesson connect coastal primary production to fisheries productivity so students understand how this information can be used to make natural resource management decisions.
The Chlorophyll-a Lesson Plan reinforces oceanographic concepts such as how chlorophyll-a concentrations can be used to measure primary production and how primary production is linked with other coastal processes, such as upwelling.
The Chlorophyll-a Data Lab Worksheet is designed to walk students through the data interpretation process with the goal of improving data literacy in students with minimal experience working with data. This lesson also encourages students to form hypotheses and apply critical thinking skills to explain why they might see the data trends they observed.
Implementation and Student Experience
I designed this lesson for an introductory oceanography course where students have minimal background in oceanographic concepts. This lesson was designed to be taught in-person or online synchronous. In my Video Blog I suggest options for adapting this lesson to an online asynchronous format.
We are a cohort program, so I have the same students in class every quarter. I originally designed this lesson for their introductory oceanography class in spring 2020 but decided not to implement it when we transitioned to online due to COVID.
Instead, I taught this lesson to the same group of students in fall 2020 after they had completed their oceanography course. I found that the concepts were a little too basic for my students at that point, so I recommend incorporating this lesson when students are first introduced to these concepts in their oceanography course.
I allowed students to answer the worksheet questions independently, discuss in pairs, and then discuss as a class. In an online synchronous format you can use breakout groups. This allows students to think through the concepts and make connections independently, while discussing as a group makes sure everyone is on the right track.
The lesson plan contains extra resources to expand this lesson, including this article about recent salmon declines by Chittenden et al. 2010. Depending on the level of your students you can incorporate more background information on marine food webs and how oceanographic data is collected, or discuss more advanced topics such as why coastal upwelling occurs and how to address outliers in your data set.
Download this 18-minute video in which Sara walks you through this Data Exploration and shares her teaching tips.