Math teacher Chad Boger prepares 30 different lesson plans per week. Increasingly, he’s using Tuva to make that formidable feat more manageable.
Boger is a teacher at Fusion Academy, a private school that offers one-on-one, personalized learning. The school serves students who thrive in a non-traditional setting. Fusion Academy promotes its program as specifically advantageous for twice-exceptional students and neurodivergent students, such as those with ADD, ADHD, or anxiety.
Boger said he enjoys working with kids at Fusion because he “gravitates” toward kids with special learning needs. He added that the one-on-one nature of his work is a boon because he gets to know each student well.
The Challenges of Condensed Class Time
That said, the one-to-one approach presents unique challenges for instructors. In a typical high school course, a student is in the classroom with their teacher for an average of 3 hours and 45 minutes per week. Fusion Academy teachers, in contrast, get just two 50-minute sessions.
Because instruction is condensed, they must be efficient with their face-to-face time. Boger is always looking for resources to help him optimize instruction time. After stumbling across Tuva this fall, Boger has used it frequently.
“Tuva is super intuitive, and it is going to save me so much time,” he said
This year, Boger’s caseload is primarily composed of juniors and seniors learning statistics. He found that teaching students to use spreadsheets was inefficient.
“It felt like a lot of wasted time when the goal was data analysis,” he explained.
This fall most of his pupils are working on descriptive statistics. Boger appreciates how easy it is to examine qualitative and quantitative data in Tuva. With the click of a few buttons, students can quickly separate the data into categories, make a box plot or histogram, and compare the spread and median of each category of data.
“Doing the same tasks with a spreadsheet,” he noted, “would have taken so much longer.”
Boger’s students use Tuva to efficiently make data displays like this one.
Never the Same Lesson Twice
Fusion Academy is not just one-to-one; it’s also personalized. Personalized learning is an approach whereby student interests and learning styles guide content and approach.
“We know that every child learns differently,” Boger said. “In a mentorship/teacher relationship, you can learn about each student’s preferences and tailor your lessons and instruction style to your learner’s needs.”
“We know that every child learns differently.”
A preliminary study by RAND Education and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation suggests personalized learning can help improve outcomes for a broad range of students1. But it’s a heavy lift for educators. Unlike in a traditional classroom, instructors cannot plan a lesson and reuse it for all of the other sections of that course. Each lesson must cater to the unique interests and needs of the student. But how do you do that when you are planning 30 lessons a week?
Boger personalizes his statistics course by allowing students to select a topic they’re interested in and find a related dataset. Interests have ranged widely- from music to nutrition and book genres to Supreme Court data. Regardless of their chosen data, Boger has students upload it into Tuva for easy exploration.
Last semester, Boger uploaded the dataset that was used to make this visualization about crime rates. Users can upload up to five datasets to Tuva for free. Try it!
Passionate About Data Literacy
Teaching statistics is Boger’s job, but that’s not all it is. It’s also his mission. Boger believes that by getting kids invested in learning statistics, he is preparing them with the data literacy skills they need to thrive in the information age.
“If I can at least expose them to these things and help them think more critically—is it coming from a reliable source? Is it someone trying to push their agenda? That’s what I am trying to get across—not just can you calculate a formula.”
Pane, John F., Elizabeth D. Steiner, Matthew D. Baird, Laura S. Hamilton, and Joseph D. Pane, How Does Personalized Learning Affect Student Achievement? Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2017. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9994.html.↩︎
The Unique Challenges of Teaching About Environmental Injustice to Students Who Are Living It
Satina Ciandro’s environmental science students have experienced environmental injustice firsthand, which, paradoxically, makes it harder to teach about climate change.
On the one hand, it’s personal- offering baked-in relevance. On the other hand… it’s personal. Which means it’s also emotionally fraught.
“It took me 23 years of teaching science to really teach about climate change. Not just mention it, really teach it,” admitted Ciandro.
A Student Body Familiar with Inequity
Ciandro teaches science at Watsonville High School, located in a small city in the Monterey Bay Area of California. 96% of her students are Hispanic. 88% of her students are economically disadvantaged.
“Most of my students are students of color and they understand injustice very well,” said Ciandro.
In fact, many of her students were directly impacted last March when the Pajaro River Levee was breached, flooding homes in a low-income community primarily inhabited by migrant workers and their families. Needed repairs on the levee had been deferred by the Army Corps of Engineers when their cost-benefit analysis concluded the low home values in the area didn’t warrant prioritizing levee repairs.
Getting Past the Paralysis
The breach is just one example of environmental injustice Ciandro’s students have faced. A 2021 Environmental Protection Agency study indicated, “…the most severe harms from climate change fall disproportionately upon underserved communities who are least able to prepare for, and recover from, heat waves, poor air quality, flooding, and other impacts.” Racial and ethnic minority communities are particularly vulnerable, they stated.
Ciandro’s hesitancy to really go deeply into climate change stemmed in part from recognition that discussing yet another example of environmental injustice would be triggering for her students. She worried her lessons would be all doom and gloom.
Ciandro also worried about her lack of perspective. How could she teach about an experience she had not had?
“I am a white lady… I don’t know what they are living through,” she said.
Getting it right felt insurmountable.
Over the past few years, Satina has picked up a few trauma-informed strategies that help her feel more comfortable delving into the science of climate change and all of its messy ramifications. She’s learned that providing time and space for students to process things that are emotionally triggering is imperative. Ciandro incorporates art, journaling, and other forms of reflection into her science instruction.
She’s also learned that focusing on solutions helps reduce the doom and gloom factor.
“You can’t just point out the injustice and not do anything about it,” Ciandro said.
A recent study revealed 59% of young people ages 16-25 were “very” or “extremely” worried about climate change, a phenomenon increasingly known as eco-anxiety. Some eco-anxiety can spur people to action; too much eco-anxiety can have the opposite effect, leading to despair and inaction.
Having students take steps to help solve the problem can be empowering and can reduce anxiety. She cautioned, however, that you need to explore solutions in a way that does not put all the burden on the students to figure it out.
“That’s the point of the whole lesson- not to make you feel bad, but to consider what are the solutions, and how are we going to do the things to fix it?”
Urban centers tend to be hotter than surrounding rural areas. Materials like brick and pavement absorb and hold onto more heat than vegetation. This creates “islands” of heat. As the climate changes, heat-related deaths have also increased. Heat-related deaths in the United States spiked 59% between 2018 and 2022 according to the National Center for Health Statistics. People in cities are at higher risk of heat-related ailments.
Ciandro knew from her program that even within the cities, however, the effects of heat are not felt equally. Urban areas with fewer trees get hotter. Urban areas with lower tree density usually have two other things in common: high minority populations and historical subjection to redlining. Redlining was a practice carried out by lenders to create policies around who they would lend money to.
Certain districts were “redlined”. Mortgage lenders marked them in red on the maps, which meant they were coded as “hazardous.” Banks would not give mortgages to people buying homes in redlined districts. The rationale listed for assigning a specific neighborhood rating often cited race.
In nearby San Jose, California, for example, agents specifically noted one of these two reasons: “inharmonious racial concentration” or “heterogeneous” for five of 12 districts rated “hazardous.”
“When I went through history class in my white suburban school, I never learned about redlining. I did not know that it was on purpose and that it was systemic. I didn’t know. I know it’s not an excuse, but I’m learning with them,” said Ciandro.
Ciandro wants to make sure her students do learn about redlining. She designed a two-month long, project-based unit around the urban heat island phenomenon. Within the course of her unit, she wanted her students to discover the temperature differences; do some experiments to determine what factors affect temperature in our built environment; uncover the correlation between the 1930s neighborhood ratings and heat; and to take action to make a change.
How Tuva was Able to Help
Ciandro found that premade graphic visualizations about urban heat islands are easy to find, but she wanted students to be able to explore and manipulate the raw data themselves. Discovering a relationship on your own as you tinker with data makes a bigger impression than observing it on a premade graph. Ciandro’s go-to program for data exploration is Tuva. Ciandro has been a loyal Tuva user for many years and uses at least one Tuva activity per unit in her environmental science course.
Ciandro immediately went to Tuva in search of a relevant dataset but was disappointed to find we did not have one. After a conversation with us this summer during which she expressed a need for a dataset about urban heat islands and redlining, Tuva team member Annette Brickley curated one. She located a 2020 research paper by Hoffman, Shandas and Pendleton from Groundwork USA. When Brickley reached out to ask for permission to use the data on Tuva, Hoffman generously shared their complete dataset. Tuva’s dataset pulls out data from seven of the U.S. cities included in Hoffman’s paper.
Later, Ciandro used Tuva’s Activity Builder to create a lesson that would help her students explore the dataset and discover relationships between neighborhood grade, tree canopy, impervious surfaces and temperature. The story the data tells is pretty bleak, but Ciandro manages to infuse hope at the end of the activity.
“Imagine you are a city planner and your job is to allocate funds for a major climate action grant,” she writes. “How will you distribute the funds to each type of neighborhood? Justify your answer using data.”(We liked her activity so much, we published it. Access it here.)
Ciandro’s students also collected data across the Watsonville High School campus. Each group selected two spots, collected surface temperature data once per week, and entered the data on Tuva. Through this exercise, they observed locations near concrete were consistently hotter than green spaces.
As the unit neared its end, four of Ciandro’s students – Jazmyn, Mario, Rocio and Anail- gathered around a Zoom meeting to tell me about their learning experience.
“I did not realize how impacted our little city is because it is so based on concrete,” noted Anail. “My (part of the) city is in the red line,” she added.
The other students agreed with Anail that the last few months have been eye-opening. Until this unit, they did not know urban heat islands existed let alone that extreme heat is worst in areas that were historically redlined. The other thing they agreed on was that everyone else in Watsonville should be made aware of the problem too. Jazmyn laid out her hopes for her community.
“I want them to get a better idea of how it actually affects us in our daily lives, I want them to not feel negative because there are solutions to it, and I want them to come together as a community to plant more trees,” she said.
As a culminating project, student teams created podcasts to help educate their community. The podcasts, which they plan to submit to the KQED Youth Media Challenge, played the dual role of helping students process injustice and giving them a way to fight back against it. (Want a sneak peek before they’re live? Listen to Jazmyn and Mario’s submission here.)
Teaching Tough Topics: “Something We Need”
Ciandro says teaching tough topics helped her grow as a teacher.
“It helped me as an educator to teach something that is tough to teach. It is a different way of teaching, and it’s something we really need,” said Ciandro.“You have to do your best and hope you are going to do more good than harm.”
A strand of human DNA is a mere 2.5 nanometers wide. To put that in perspective, a sheet of printer paper is 100,000 nanometers thick. It’s no wonder high school microscopes are not powerful enough to enable students to view DNA! That poses a challenge for high school biology teachers, though. Anything at such an infinitesimal scale is abstract. It’s quite the trick to teach about how structure relates to function for something none of the students have ever seen.
High school science teacher Catia Wolff recognizes the need to make genetics more concrete for her students. This is especially true because of the population of students in her classes.
“Our school attracts students that prefer working on hands-on projects rather than a traditional setting,” explained Wolff.
Wolff teaches at the Rockland BOCES Hudson Valley Pathways in Technology Early College High School, more commonly referred to as Hudson Valley P-TECH. The program is part of the larger New York State P-TECH Program initiated a decade ago with dual goals of preparing students for high-skill, high-wage STEM jobs and ensuring employers have access to a talented and skilled workforce. Students who complete the program at Hudson Valley P-TECH graduate with both a high school diploma and an associates degree at Rockland Community College. The school tends to draw students with a talent for and affinity toward working with their hands.
Hudson Valley P-TECH attracts students who are hands-on learners.
Wolff carefully selects and sequences lessons to make genetics more tangible. Her process starts with three-dimensional modeling. She gives her students a DNA sequence. Students create a complementary DNA strand. Then they model the processes of transcription and translation, simulating how a cell carries out protein synthesis.
After completing this process, Wolff found her students were still struggling to understand how all the cells in our body can have such drastically different characteristics while housing identical DNA. They didn’t understand what gene expression means. They needed something more. What Wolff did next did not surprise P-TECH Guidance Counselor Allison Paul.
“Tuva caught my eye right away. Students can see it, they can manipulate it. They can do it. They’ll say, ‘Look what I made!’”
“She is always learning. When most teachers just want to take the summer off, she is taking a course. She is constantly learning and constantly trying to improve,” said Paul.
The activity uses a dataset curated from The Human Protein Atlas, a Swedish-based program with the aim to map all the human proteins in cells, tissues, and organs. Tuva’s dataset includes 35 different genes, the function of the proteins they code for, and whether or not those genes are expressed in the tissues that make up the eye, skeletal muscle, stomach and tongue. During the activity, students look for patterns of gene expression and hypothesize an explanation of the results.
“They had to figure out the puzzle. It made them really think. It really sparked conversation,” said Wolff
Throughout the course of the activity, students use Tuva’s drag and drop graphing tools to create visuals that help them compare the tissues and puzzle out why some tissues express certain genes while others do not. Wolf observed that having a model, a graph that students could actually see and manipulate, helped them comprehend how DNA connects to cell function.
“Tuva caught my eye right away,” Wolff explained. “Students can see it, they can manipulate it. They can do it. They’ll say, ‘Look what I made!’”
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.
MDI Biological Laboratory. “All About Arsenic+.” All About Arsenic, 2023, https://www.allaboutarsenic.org/sepa/. Accessed 31 October 2023.↩︎
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.↩︎
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.↩︎
Foley Teaches Complexity Using Multivariate Graphs
Downpours in Uruguay, but drought in Peru. Enormous blizzards in the northeast, but steeply climbing worldwide temperatures. Climate science can be confusing… especially if you’re only 14 years old. Without an understanding of complex systems, it can seem downright contradictory.
That’s why Maura Foley, an earth and climate science teacher at the Hopkins School in Connecticut, devotes significant energy to helping her students investigate systems interactions.
“Today’s problems are complex problems, so we need thinking that is going to reach outside of these discrete zones of understanding,” said Foley.
Foley admits that understanding complexity is part of higher order, abstract thinking – an easier task for her high school students than her middle school students. However, she believes it’s essential to begin building the idea of complexity in the lower grade bands. In her middle school courses, the process of building that understanding starts with noticing how one thing affects another, which affects another, and so on.
“Today’s problems are complex problems, so we need thinking that is going to reach outside of these discrete zones of understanding.”
“What’s great about Tuva is being able to blow through looking at a whole bunch of variables quickly,” explained Foley. “They don’t need to be a spreadsheet expert to quickly go ahead and make 10 graphs.”
Foley uses Tuva activities and datasets consistently throughout her Surface to Space class in 8th-grade. Each dataset includes multiple, interconnected variables that students can drag and drop onto the axes to explore correlations.
New England Ice-Out Dates, Global Change and October Weather in US Cities are a few Tuva datasets Foley’s students use to explore complex earth and climate systems.
When students first use Tuva, she said there tends to be some oohs and aahs as they watch the dots rearrange themselves. Then, Foley starts to hear students verbalizing the patterns they observe.
“Those observations are able to keep going and going because it’s not like I’ve handed them a simple graph,” said Foley.
This graph, created by an 8th-grader in Foley’s class, investigated the relationship between particulate matter and humidity.
Foley has observed that once students notice one relationship, they begin to wonder if other variables are related. Tuva allows them to quickly and easily satisfy their curiosity. It starts a deeper conversation in which students begin to comprehend the complexity of Earth’s systems.
In addition to middle school science, Foley teaches a high school elective: Engineering Nature. In this higher level class, Foley expects her students to apply their understanding of interconnectedness to tackle pressing issues, such as climate change. Last year her students made biogeochemical terrariums and tracked CO2 concentrations over time. Then they geoengineered the terrariums to reduce the CO2 concentrations.
Foley’s emphasis on interconnected systems when these students were in the middle grades prepared them to take on this rigorous geoengineering challenge. In the long term, Foley‘s students will be prepared to face the complex problems of a complex world.