Facilitating Student Exploration of Local Environmental Challenges via Mathematics and Computational Thinking

Thursday 1:15-3:45pm PT / 2:15-4:45pm MT / 3:15-5:45pm CT / 4:15-6:45pm ET Online
Afternoon Mini Workshop


Susan Meabh Kelly, Connecticut State Department of Education

Mathematics and computational thinking – skills that have been identified as critical to data literacy (Education Development Center, 2016) – are recognized as one of the eight NGSS practices, but are largely absent from current NGSS-congruent exemplar activities (NGSS Lead States, 2013; NextGenScience, 2020). Publicly available geoscience databases and open source software invite opportunity for students to develop and apply these skills as they meaningfully explore local environmental challenges (Kelly, 2021).

This workshop is designed to help 9-14 educators leverage geoscience databases and open source software (R) in order to expand opportunities for students to engage in inquiry as professionally practiced. With publicly available NASA, NOAA, and EPA datasets as resources, step-by-step R tutorials as reference, and a Connecticut-based environmental challenge as example, participants will practice mathematics and computational thinking as they explore factors that may contribute to variation in daily air quality. Working in small groups with similar teaching assignments, participants will explore other public geoscience databases and identify potential data explorations that are relevant to their communities.

Education Development Center (2016). Building global interest in data literacy: A dialogue [Workshop report].

Kelly, S. (2021). Digging for data: Mining geoscience databases to deepen and expand STEM learning opportunities. The Science Teacher, 88(5): 24-35.

NextGenScience (2020). Quality examples of science lessons and units.

NGSS Lead States (2013). Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.

Convener's Background

Susan Meabh Kelly is a high school Earth Science and Physics Teacher in Danbury, Connecticut, as well as a PhD candidate in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Connecticut. As an Earth Science and Physics Teacher, Susan participated in many multi-month long agency-funded efforts to integrate archived and real-time data into K-12 classrooms via computer technology (e.g. NSF-funded NOAO Research Based Science Education, NOAA-funded AMS Datastreme graduate courses, NASA-funded Eyes in the Sky II), as well as provide opportunities for teachers to contribute to emerging research (e.g. NASA/GISS, NASA/JPL). As a graduate student Susan has served as a research assistant on two NSF-funded projects centered on integrating computational thinking in science and math classrooms (1812982; 2101615).

Targeted Audience

The suggested activities are designed to support high school and early undergraduate geoscience and interdisciplinary students' use of publicly available scientific data.


By the end of this mini-workshop, participants will:

  • Recognize how integration of geoscience data can help support and expand instructional goals
  • Practice mining, exploring, and modeling geoscience data via Google Sheets and R software.
  • Access and become familiar with a wide range of geoscience databases
  • Identify potential content- and community-relevant geoscience data sets for students to explore, model, and analyze
  • Become part of a network of educators interested in developing and implementing activities that use local environmental data


4:15 EDT Welcome and outline of research- and practice-informed sample geoscience data activity (Kelly, 2021)

4:30 EDT     Facilitated practice mining and exploring geoscience data with R software (computational thinking) (AugustDanburyOzone.xlsx (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 9kB Jul14 21)data)

5:00 EDT     Facilitated practice modeling geoscience data via Google Sheets (mathematics)

5:30 EDT     Break

5:40 EDT     Review and explore a wide range of geoscience databases

6:00 EDT     Break out session with colleagues with similar teaching assignments; collaboratively identify potential data explorations that are content and community-relevant

6:30 EDT     Exchange of potential environmental data explorations that had been identified by each group and workshop evaluation

6:45 EDT     Receive resources to facilitate co-development of potential environmental data explorations and adjourn


BoxPlotR (2021).

Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (2021). Annual summary information for ozone.

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) (2011). Operational definition of computational thinking for K-12 education.

Lytle, N., Dong, Y., Bounajim, D. et al. (2019). Use, modify, create: Comparing computational thinking lesson progressions for STEM classes. ITiCSE, Aberdeen, Scotland.

Kelly, S. (2021). Digging for data: Mining geoscience databases to deepen and expand STEM learning opportunities. The Science Teacher, 88(5): 24-35.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: National Centers for Environmental Information (2021). Data tools: Local climatological data.

Peel, A., Dabholkar, S., Wu, S., Horn, M., Wilensky, U. (2021). An evolving definition of computational thinking in science and mathematics classrooms. In Looi, C.K., Wadhwa, B., Dagiené, V., Seow, P., Kee, Y.H., & Wu, L.K. (Eds.). Proceedings of the 5th APSCE International Computational Thinking and STEM in Education Conference 2021. Singapore: National Institute of Education.

Weintrop, D., Beheshti, E., Horn, M., Orton, K., Jona, K., Wilensky, U., Trouille, L. (2016).  Defining computational thinking for mathematics and science classroomsJournal of Science Education and Technology, 25 (1), 127-147.