Phenomenal Data - Digital Promise

Phenomenal Data

Objective: Students will create collect data from their surroundings to better understand every day phenomena

Tools/Materials Required: A device or notepad to record notes and data, other materials as needed

Depth of Knowledge: Strategic Thinking

Teacher’s notes are in purple. For the student’s version, see Phenomenal Data Student Guide.


How might we use data to learn about something we observe in our everyday surroundings?

Prepare: Learn about the key ideas in the project

Do you ever wonder why tree leaves change color in the fall? Or why some foods rot faster than others? Although the answers to many of these kinds of questions can be found on the internet, we can also collect data to help us better understand phenomena we observe in our everyday surroundings.

In this project, you will first come up with your own driving question about something you can observe in your everyday surroundings. Then, you will create a plan to collect data that will help you learn more about your driving question. Finally, you will go collect your data and reflect on what you’ve learned.

Practice: Try as many activities as you’d like

  • Try Deliberating Data to consider what questions you can ask about data.
  • Try Data Hunting to collect existing data about a topic of your choice.
  • In groups or with a partner, brainstorm possible driving questions you could address with data. Discuss what kinds of data you would need to answer those questions.

Produce: Dig into the project and make it your own

Step One: Create a driving question.
Come up with a driving question that you will use data to answer. For example, your driving question could be “Why do tree leaves change color in the fall?”

Step Two: Identify the objects, actions, and variables.
Create a table like the one below to identify the objects, actions, and variables related to your driving question.

This is a three column table. The examples in the "Objects" column are leaves, trees, the sun, wind. Examples under the "Actions" column are leaves turning colors, drying out and falling off, as well as the temperature getting colder and days getting "shorter." Examples under the "Variables" column are how fast the leaves changes, species of tree, temperature, and amount of daylight.

Step Three: Connect an object, action, or variable to a data point that can be used to evaluate it.
Create a table like the one below to connect the objects, actions, and variables to data points. Use the far-left column to identify what you want to get more information about. Use the far-right column to brainstorm what kind of data you would collect to give you that information

This is a three column table. Under the "Objects/Actions/Variable" column are the examples the amount of daylight and the leaves drying out. The middle column is an arrow corresponding to the right column. The right column is the data point that would give you information, including the units if applicable. The first row in the third column is the number of hours the sun is up (this corresponds to the amount of daylight in the first column.) In the second row of the third column is the moisture of a leaf (water percent by mass), a data point that corresponds to the example of the leaves drying out in the second row of the first column.

Tip: If you get to this step and realize your driving question cannot be answered by collecting data on an object, action or variable, consider how to change your driving question so that it is measurable.

Step 4: Choose the most important data points to collect.
Review the connections you made. Which are the most important data points to help you answer the driving question? Create a list.

Step 5: Determine how you will collect the data.
For the data points you identified as important, brainstorm ways (the tools and methods) to collect it. It may be helpful to make a two column table as below:

This is a two column table. The first column is titled "Data to be Collected." The second column is titled "Tools and methods to collect it."

Step 6: Go out and collect your data!

When you are ready to organize and present the data you collected, consider the different types of graphs you can use. These resources from Tuva Labs and NCES can help.

Step 7: Reflect on your work

  • What did the data you collected help you learn about your driving question?
  • What more do you want to learn?
  • How will you share your findings with others?
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