Monday, April 15, 2013

Real-time data in the classroom

Bridging science, math, and inquiry... and creating citizen scientists

(A special blog post geared toward teachers) The SailBuoy has been doggedly pursuing data in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico for a month now, and we are collecting valuable information that will help us to predict ocean current behavior. It is so fun to be able to closely track the SailBuoy’s whereabouts. It really brings the project alive! It is also a great opportunity for you to incorporate real-time data into your classroom curriculum. 

Using real time data with students incorporates math, science, and inquiry with the added bonus of allowing them to be an integral part of scientific discovery. 

SailBuoy journey
Deep-C SailBuoy journey, screenshot taken April 15, 2013
Every hour, the SailBuoy records bathymetry (depth), salinity (salt), oxygen concentration, water temperature, and conductivity (the amount of dissolved minerals). 

Real time data from the SailBuoy 4/15/2013
According to the SailBuoy project leader Dr. Lars R. Hole of, drifter and buoy data is typically analyzed by comparing collected data to known ocean models or satellite measurements. “However, this is new technology and I am sure new ideas will appear as we work with the data.” 

Maybe your class will come up with one of those new ideas! However if you don’t want to reinvent the wheel there are several options available to you.

Comparing and contrasting SailBuoy data as it travels can provide an opportunity to make connections and draw conclusions. For example comparing bathymetry and oxygen concentration or surface temperature and salinity. 

Interested in comparing SailBuoy data with existing measurements?
  • SECOORA -The Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing and archival data and utilizes both buoys and radar for data collection. 

  • Gulf of Mexico Data Atlas -An interactive map that allows you to layer different data sets. The picture at the right showcases average salinity in various parts of the Gulf of Mexico. 

There is also no shortage of lesson plans and teacher resources floating around the web to help you implement the use of real-time data in your classroom. Here are some of the best: 
  • NOAA Adopt-A-Drifter Program is a great program, and NOAA provides several lesson plans and resources that set the stage for diving deeper into ocean currents and data analysis. 
  • The BRIDGE is an exhaustive educational resource and there is an extensive section on real time data related activities. If you haven’t been to this site before you will be amazed! The Dead Zone: A Marine Horror Story, is a particularly relevant lesson and even includes detailed instructions for graphing data. 
  • CeNCOOS (Central and Northern California Ocean Observing System) may deal with a different coast, but this site has a great lesson plan related to using real-time data to plan and execute an appropriate response to an oil spill.
  • Hatfield Marine Science Center at Oregon State University has compiled a comprehensive list of web resources for using real-time data. If it’s not here it’s probably not worth using! 
Drifter, floats, and buoys have a long and storied history as a mechanism of data collection in the ocean.  Teacher Stan Cutler wrote a great synopsis of this history at the end of his research experience last summer. Stan participated in a Deep-C internship last summer.  Check it out! 

Got some more ideas on how the SailBuoy data can be used in the classroom? Let us know so we can share them!

Posted by:
Amelia Vaughan,
Ocean Science Educator


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