Citizen Science Design: Data Literacy

This program was a response to what we learned in the early work we did to involve teachers and students in research into environmental mercury.


  • If science teachers took on the task of teaching students how to use data we could begin to use data as part of student thinking (Assumption: they could not count on math teachers to teach about using real-world, messy data.)
  • They needed pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) and an instructional framework that could help them help students make sense of data


  • Participation by middle and high school (primarily grades 6- 9) teachers from a number of Maine communities.
  • Summer workshops coupled with 5-6 after school / supper meetings during the school year
  • Some direct instruction in descriptive statistics
  • Practice with interpreting data and creating “data stories”
  • Sharing of lessons, instructional approaches, student work

What We Learned

  • Focusing on a question is the first step toward thinking about how present data visually.
  • Most students and even some teachers have difficulty thinking in terms of aggregations of data rather than single data points
  • Many teachers are not comfortable thinking and talking  about the concepts of “variability” and “variation” — which are at the heart of scientific inquiry.
  • Related: most middle school teachers and many high school teachers do not focus students’ attention on how data are distributed and why that matters in drawing conclusions from the data.
  • All of these things can be addressed reasonably easily for most teachers: the key is largely just helping teachers see how these issues are at the core of involving students in scientific inquiry, and providing them with PCK and tools to address student misconceptions.

Other Outcomes

  • This was, in some ways, our most successful project in terms of changing what teachers do.  The teachers participating in this became believers and advocates of focusing on students’ use of data.
  • Some teachers have placed data literacy the core of all their science instruction, together with use of data to support arguments — and continue this work
  • We do have evidence of transfer of know-how and techniques to colleagues.
  • Instructional tools, most notably “The Graph Choice Chart” (Webber et al., 2014) that are now in use by many teachers and students.