Using USGS streamflow data to design class projects that combine independent and collaborative research

submitted by

Tim Lutz West Chester University
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This is a partially developed activity description. It is included in the collection because it contains ideas useful for teaching even though it is incomplete.

Individual students analyze on-line USGS streamflow data; each student's results form the basis of a collaborative investigation of larger-scale issues by the entire class.
GSA Poster (PowerPoint PRIVATE FILE 950kB Oct31 03)

Learning Goals


Higher Order Thinking Skills:

analyze and draw conclusions from quantitative data; integrate concepts and information; consider multiple hypotheses

Other Skills:

data analysis and graphing using Excel; work cooperatively with peers.


Instructional Level:

undergraduate major

Skills Needed:

should have been exposed to hydrologic cycle, watershed, and stream concepts; practiced use of units and conversions; basic familiarity with Excel

Role of Activity in a Course:

used as a culminating activity at the end of the course

Data, Tools and Logistics

Required Tools:

Internet connection; Excel; computers with student-accessible hard drive or CD-ROM drive or file server. Easy to use.

Logistical Challenges:

Defining the scope and focus of the specific project within a geographic context; defining the appropriate level of instruction so that most students are not over- or under-directed. Dealing with electronic submission of results and reports, if this is not routine.


Evaluation Goals:

Has each student accomplished the specific goals of the individual component; has each student participated in, and contributed to, the collaborative outcomes.

Evaluation Techniques:

Observation of class discussion during the collaborative phase; individual written reports presenting both individual and group results and conclusions


The two types of projects described in this poster have both been used in classes of up to 24 students at the 200-level, and are suited to any course in which surface water hydrology is a substantial component. The students need to be familiar with basic stream and watershed concepts, and I have used these projects at the end of the semester to provide a culminating experience. The projects have been organized in stages to accommodate short (50-minute) class periods which are used to give instruction, trouble-shoot problems, and discuss results but they could be adapted to longer class or laboratory periods. Students work outside class to complete individual tasks and some group work.
In the first part of a project, each student individually analyzes data from a single gage or watershed. They learn or practice basic skills in Excel such as importing data, applying formulas, creating charts, and adding trend lines. The students assemble and analyze their individual results collectively to discover and discuss new issues that span multiple gages or watersheds. To conclude each project, the results are presented and discussed in class. Each student also submits their individual data and analysis electronically, along with a report on their work and the class's discussion.