HS Junior Melds Stats With Civics to Gain Insights into Infant Mortality

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Data Crosses Disciplines, Yields Powerful Learning

Up until the mid-1800s, children had a 50% chance of dying before age 15. By 1950 the childhood mortality rate was closer to 25%. Today, it sits at 4.3% globally. Childhood mortality rates have experienced a steep, steady decline across the world.

So, when Kate Harrison, a high school junior in Charlotte, North Carolina, was sifting through data about infant mortality rates in different countries, Syria’s data gave her pause.

“Syria in particular has these two spikes, and I got really interested, thinking, what was happening at the time?” she said.

Thus was born a semester-long investigation.

Data Transcends Disciplinary Boundaries, Deepens Learning

Harrison was enrolled in an honors statistics class at Fusion Academy where she’d been charged with undertaking an interdisciplinary project. She’d decided to apply statistics to explore history, but identifying a focus took time.

Her original idea was a bit nebulous, but it centered around trends in warfare over time. To clarify her question, she began exploring data. In the process, she stumbled upon the Syrian infant mortality data. That’s when nuanced and intriguing questions pushed their way to the forefront.

Harrison immediately noted an association between the timing of armed conflicts in Syria and the spikes in infant deaths. She noticed that after the start of the Islamist uprising in Syria in 1981, infant mortality increased by 4.24%. The nation suffered an even more drastic 52.7% increase in the infant mortality rate from 2010-2014 at the beginning of the Syrian Civil War.

Harrison discovered that in both instances there had been a concurrent rise in overall mortality. However, she knew that infants didn’t fight in the wars, so what were the underlying connections? Harris worked with her faculty advisors, social studies teacher Rick Fera and statistics teacher Chad Boger, to brainstorm variables that may have influenced infant mortality. 

Variables she explored included birth rates, governmental regimes, international aid, gross domestic product, basic sanitation, basic healthcare access, and vaccination rates.  She compiled data about these factors from Our World in Data and the World Health Organization and imported it into Tuva for analysis. Harrison said identifying changes and interpreting patterns was easier for her when she used Tuva.

“You really just can’t tell using a table because there’s so many numbers and so many different data points,” she said. “And so getting to put that all into one tool and really visualize it without having to go through the hassle of actually plotting out each point, and probably doing something wrong, was very helpful.”

Surprises in the Data

In some cases, Harrison was surprised at the lack of correlation between variables. She had assumed, for example, that GDP would have a large impact on infant mortality rates, but the data did not show a correlation. In fact, Syria experienced a financial crisis a few years before the civil war, but the infant death rate did not experience a resultant increase.

What did show a correlation with infant mortality – vaccination rates. In the early 1980s, Syria engaged in a national immunization campaign, and infant mortality rates showed a steep decline. However, when immunization rates faltered during the civil war and uprising, infant mortality spiked again. 

Using Data to Inform Priorities in War-Torn Nations

“This data suggests that immunization programs and keeping healthcare systems intact should be a high priority in war-torn nations,” Harrison concluded. “Several relief programs are focusing on integrated management of childhood illnesses, which includes improving case management strategies of healthcare providers, healthcare systems, and families.” 

Boger, Harrison’s teacher, applauded her work, saying she’d exceeded his high expectations. This spring, Harrison will have another chance to explore her passions with a civics math class she’s enrolled in.

“I personally see data as the backbone of any social change.”

She is also beginning to think about life after high school. She’s begun exploring four-year colleges and aspires to pursue degrees in political and environmental sciences. 

“I personally see data as the backbone of any social change,” said Harrison. “Being able to visualize and look at data clearly is essential to taking meaningful action and maximizing your impact. I see this, especially with environmental justice and climate change. Data will help determine which areas are most in need of relief and which areas will face the most impact. I hope to be able to focus on data-driven environmental policy work in the future.”  

Inspired? Explore Data You’re Passionate About
  1. Find data that sparks your curiosity.
  2. Click “Upload Dataset” from your Tuva dashboard or type tuvalabs.com/upload in your web browser’s URL bar.

3. You may now import a dataset from your computer, Google Drive, or One Drive, or by dragging and dropping your CSV, XLS, or XLSX file into the gray rectangle.

4. You’ll be prompted to review your data. Afterward, you’ll be taken to a visualization screen where you can begin analyzing your data.

For more detailed information and instructions, visit our Support Page: Uploading Data into Tuva. Also, we’d love to see the data visualizations you create! Share it with us at jocelyn@tuvalabs.com.

HS Chemistry Students Uncover Well Water Contamination

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Student Data Shows Unsafe Arsenic Levels in ME Wells

An alarming 10% of Maine’s private wells are contaminated with arsenic, and many of the people who drink from those wells are unaware1. It’s likely that around 38,000 Mainers unknowingly ingest private well water with arsenic above the Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contaminant levels. That’s because only 56% of wells in Maine have been tested for arsenic. 2

Students in Jon Ramgren’s high school chemistry class are helping change that. Since 2018, Ramgren’s classes have tested more than 350 wells in the vicinity of Waterville Senior High School in south-central Maine. 16% of the wells his students have tested contained unsafe levels of arsenic, a known poison and carcinogen.


The ME Department of Environmental Protection deems arsenic levels greater than 10ug/L unsafe.

Ramgren was one of the first teachers to join All About Arsenic+, a school-based citizen science initiative begun in 2015 by Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory and Dartmouth College’s Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program. Students have tested thousands of wells in Maine and New Hampshire as part of this project, which is funded by a National Institutes of Health Science Education Partnership Award.   

“We are getting real-world data that no one has; we are adding to data that is limited, “ said Ramgren.

All sites on the map represent wells that hadn’t been tested for arsenic prior to the project. Data points in bright yellow show the locations where water samples were collected by Waterville students.

One important aspect of this project is helping students build data literacy. The program identified Tuva as the right partner to help their students explore and analyze the data they have collected and to make the data publicly available. Through the All About Arsenic + project data portal on Tuva, students can access all of the project data or can filter it to show only their school’s results.

“Most of the time in high school science,” Ramgren explained, “you are doing labs that are kind of meaningless in the sense of larger scientific data. No one is interested in the data some kid got about the density of copper.”

In contrast, interest in well water data has been high. Ramgren said test results have spurred some homeowners in his area to install arsenic-removing filters. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Maine lawmakers have been paying attention too.

“You can gather real information as a citizen scientist and actually contribute even if you are ‘only’ a high school student.”

In 2022, data collected by participants in the All About Arsenic program convinced the Committee on Labor and Housing to double their request for funding allocated to well water remediation3

“It’s real data that people are using to inform public policy,” said Ramgren. “You can gather real information as a citizen scientist and actually contribute even if you are ‘only’ a high school student.”

Engaging in citizen science is more time-consuming than using canned labs and textbooks, but Ramgren said the extra time is worth it. Amongst the benefits lauded by Ramgren are stickier learning, authentic problem-solving as students wrestle with how to act upon the data, and a stronger understanding of the nature of science. Collecting and analyzing real-world data, students get a more accurate picture of how professional scientists experience data – with lots of variability, background noise, and messiness. Because creating graphs by hand is so time-consuming, students are often only asked to make graphs when there is a correlation between variables. As a result, students may erroneously expect there will always be a correlation. 

But it’s important for students to realize graphs showing a lack of correlation are equally important. The All About Arsenic dataset that’s housed by Tuva includes 28 attributes, or variables. Students can use the Tuva tools to quickly make and explore multiple graphs- both those that show correlation, and those that don’t.  

Ramgren is also hopeful that real-world data collection will help students avoid another misconception that plagues our society- the notion that science ideas are absolute and unchanging. 

“Science is not static. We are constantly getting new information,” Ramgren said. 

He thinks altering the way we teach science can help kids recognize science knowledge is subject to revision and improvement in the light of new evidence. When we have students redo experiments for which the answer is already known, we reinforce the impression that we know everything in science already. However, if students are actively adding to scientific knowledge, they will understand its fluid nature.

  1. MDI Biological Laboratory. “All About Arsenic+.” All About Arsenic, 2023, https://www.allaboutarsenic.org/sepa/. Accessed 31 October 2023. ↩︎
  2. Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention & Maine Department of Health and Human Services. “Private Well Water | Maine Tracking Network.” Maine Tracking Network, 2021, https://data.mainepublichealth.gov/tracking/private-wells. Accessed 31 October 2023. ↩︎
  3. Viles, Chance. “Westbrook students’ science project makes impact in Augusta.” The Portland Press Herald, 1 March 2022, https://www.pressherald.com/2022/03/01/westbrook-students-science-project-makes-impact-in-augusta/. Accessed 31 October 2023. ↩︎

Brooklyn students dig into SAT scores on Tuva…and get published! – Tuva Story #2

“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.”  – Plato

Is there a better sight in the classroom than thirty students at the edge of their seats during first period, digging into real data, engaged in conversations with their peers around a topic that lights a fire to their competitive spirit and captures their imaginations? Last week, we witnessed such a scene in a high school class in Brooklyn. Students, with the SAT exams fresh on their minds, dove deep into the 2012 Critical Reading, Writing, and Math SAT Scores of 32 high schools in Brooklyn. Talk about some friendly inter-borough competition on Tuva!  

By creating scatter and parallel box plot of the SAT scores, they analyzed if students consistently performed better on a particular exam (the median and interquartile range of the scores), explored correlations between the three SAT exams (“Is there a strong correlation in performance on the Writing exam vs. the Critical Reading exam?”), and examined the outlier schools (“What might they be doing differently to be an outlier?”).

We want to thanks their tremendously talented and inspiring teacher, Ms.Terry to make this activity happen. It was a fantastic experience, and it seems that the word regarding this activity spread around Brooklyn very quickly. Technically Brooklyn, a fantastic digital news media site covering Brooklyn, picked up on this lesson and wrote a story about it!
You can read their coverage here: http://technical.ly/brooklyn/2013/11/12/tuva-labs-sats-data/ 

Want to check out some of the students’ work? Here you go:
Student 1: http://tuva.la/1bJsSCI 
Student 2: http://tuva.la/1gYlBmp
Student 3: http://tuva.la/1jgDREy

Check out all of the students’ work here. 

Our mission at Tuva is to empower your students to learn, share, and discover through exploration and analysis of data around their favorite topics. As their teacher, we would love to collaborate with you to bring similar experiences to your classroom. Let’s get started!

How 3rd graders in Texas are impacting their community – Story #1

“You cannot help but learn more as you take the world into your hands. Take it up reverently, for it is an old piece of clay, with millions of thumbprints on it." –  John Updike

Today, we are launching an brand new initiative to share with you short stories of students across the country learning math and statistics through relevant, meaningful, real-world topics on Tuva while building their data literacy, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills. We hope these stories inspire you to conduct similar activities with your students and empower them with the confidence and skills to tackle tomorrow’s challenges.

How much energy do we 


 consume? Has the amount of energy we consume been increasing or decreasing over the last few decades? Fourth grade students in McKinney, Texas decided to dig into the real, residential energy consumption data and tackle these questions head on for their home state. Empowered by the award-winning, wholly inspiring 


, these young kids of "The Fearless Classroom” engaged in a meaningful data-driven activity on Tuva, learning and practicing important data literacy and critical thinking skills. 
The students started off by creating a time plot of energy consumed by Texas residents (Texans) from 1984-2011, provided by the 

Energy Information Administration

. Analyzing the data, they determined that although the amount of energy being consumed by Texans is increasing every year, the rate of this increase has decreased by almost 50% over the last decade. The students concluded that Texans are moving in the right direction in reducing their energy consumption, and they decided to make it their mission to educate others in their communities about ways to reduce energy consumption to less than 40,000 billion btus over the next 5 years. Of course, as is normally the case in science, students had to be careful about the units. EIA indicates the amount of energy consumed in Billion BTU, and students had to spend some time learning 
about British Thermal Units. 
They began their mission by first learning a bit about various other source of energy, including solar, wind, hydropower, and biomass energy. They found interesting tidbits about each of these renewable energy sources, including:
1. Did you know that Texas is the leading state in wind power production? 
2. Did you know that solar energy is the Earth’s most available energy resource because it can be found anywhere the sun shines?
3. Did you know that hydropower is the cheapest renewable energy source in the US?
4. Did you know that a campfire produces biomass energy through the burning of wood? 


Young kids digging into real data from data sets provided by a United States Government agency, choosing their own ways to visualize, analyze, and interpret the numbers is a powerful driver for inquiry and discovery. Unknowingly, they observed challenging math concepts such as rate of change in the context of a real-world, meaningful situation. Their observations encouraged them to take action kick-start their own mission, leading them to conduct research into various renewable energy sources and how each source can play an important role in our lives.

How about if you empower your students to explore energy consumed by residents in your home state? What are some way you would extend this activity for your students? You can find all the residential energy consumption data sets on Tuva here. If you can’t find a data set for a particular state or country, please get in touch with us and we will make it available for you.