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Sea Level Trends Activity - Tweaked for 6-8th Grade ;)

tweaked lesson plans

Tweaked Lesson Plans 

This article is part of the “LP Tweaks” blog series showcasing how small adjustments to the questions, organization, and/or data moves within your existing curriculum can help align the learning to different data skills for your learners. This original lesson is strong, and the intention is not to communicate otherwise but rather to share how you could adjust things for a different desired outcome.

Written by: Naomi W


So imagine that you have a great data-based lesson from Bridge DATA: Sea Level Trends on using real scientific data to investigate and compare long-term changes in sea level from different coastal locations around the United States for your learners to work on concepts related to MS-ESS-5. Your students have been exploring earth science data in this unit and they like hands-on graphing activities.

However, based on your student's performance in the last unit

you are looking to give them more time to “Calculate Statistical Values” in a practiced way to more deeply get at their data analysis and interpretation skills (see Building Blocks for Data Literacy to explore the corresponding data skills of these areas more).

You are torn, you like the BRIDGE lesson from VIMS (Virginia Institute of Marine Science) and your other colleagues are using it, but you are worried the questions aren’t directly getting at the data skills your learners need to practice at this point in the year, but the content is. What do you do?

Let’s check out some easy optional tweaks to make the lesson more what you are looking for now.

Here is an example of how we can add a few questions to the lesson to more directly help your current students practice data skills we know they are weaker on (or we are more interested in targeting this specific data interaction) at this point in the year.

The questions are designed to help students to “calculate statistical values” in grades 6-8 in appropriate ways. They do not add a large amount to the workload of the students, but instead, provide more targeted practice of these skills.

The new questions help students calculate specific numbers not only of the start and end but also of the difference (or range). Averages do not always tell the “correct” pattern you are trying to describe or explain when looking at data, so it is important to calculate actual differences as well from the data.

Even though the students have looked at line graphs before to identify patterns, these questions are designed specifically to connect their math calculation skills with data to more deeply understand what is going on in the data. This will help set students up for more success in drawing conclusions and/or making predictive statements that are based on one or more patterns in data. This line of questions can also be a jumping-off point to help students to consider correlation (e.g., increase in sea level over time seen in the graph) without assuming causation (e.g., time does not cause sea level to increase, but rather other mechanisms that have also been happening across the same time period are what cause the sea level to rise, and thus sea level and time are correlated but not the causal relationship).

Therefore, with the addition of 5 new questions, you can continue to use this tried-and-true lesson you found years ago while also better aligning it to your current learners' needs and/or your desired focus areas for your learners to practice data skills. 

To me, that feels like a win-win…using a lesson that you like with a more strategic data focus to help learners build their skills :)

Will this exact tweak work for everyone or every lesson? Absolutely not!

In fact, other adjustments in this lesson could also help students that are needing to work on their ability to “Recognize and Describe Variability” skills at this time of the year. So rather than just practice making calculations from the data, you could adjust the questions to compare the variability of the data within a location across the years (e.g., inter-annual variability) by making observations of how dispersed the data points are from the trend line (if you plot the calculated slope :)). You could also compare the amount of variability in sea level over time among the locations.

And for high school… students could actually compare the data to each other and decide if a relationship is likely causal or not.

So many possibilities!

The point is that with a better sense of what we are working towards with data skills (see Building Blocks for Data Literacy to explore the range of data skills K-12 our learners should be working to master) we can be empowered to make our existing curriculum work better for us and our learners…rather than needing to find or write all new curriculum.

Give it a try! What in your next lesson with data can you slightly adjust to make it better hit the skills you want your students to practice? Let us know how it goes.