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Buzzing with Data: Integrating Computer Science and Ecology to Empower Student Scientists

Updated: Jun 5

Written By: Rachel Davey; Edited by: Zoë Randall


"The partnership with UC San Diego has been an amazing opportunity for our students, where they can actually get real world experience at the intersection of life science, coding, and data analytics.  With students learning to code micro:bits and weather:bits to collect and analyze data, they can synthesize all the information in order to come up with tangible ideas to improve our campus' ecosystem. Their excitement and engagement is exactly what authentic learning should look and feel like!" - Dr. Vargas, Principal, City Heights Preparatory Charter School.


Creating a Cutting-Edge Curriculum: A Collaboration of Science Teachers


What happens when three middle school science teachers collaborate at a university and delve into scientific research to create a new curriculum incorporating computer science and micro:bits? You get a dedicated team that develops a curriculum centered on investigating an intriguing phenomenon: "How can we use data science to help investigate our school campus environment to sustain pollinators?"


Rachel Davey, Tina Tom, and Liz Hunter-Drake, middle school science teachers from San Diego, CA, developed the pollinator health computer science curriculum. Rachel shared the story of how this unit was created and the impact it had on her students at City Heights Preparatory Charter School.


At City Heights Preparatory Charter School, we celebrate a diverse student body representing 17 different countries and speaking at least 28 different languages. Our school was founded to support the refugee population in City Heights, preparing students for college through academic rigor and cultural responsiveness.


The community of City Heights is situated in San Diego, CA, however it is a lower socio-economic and urban area that has a constantly changing population and built environment. Around 30 years ago, the city built a freeway in the middle of the community which changed the landscape removing the natural environment and affecting pollinator health. Because of the constant change, the newer generation is working to bring a focus on ecological health in this area.


The Birth of the Pollinator Health Curriculum


After attending the Climate Champions Design Summit, hosted by the San Diego Science Project at UC San Diego, I teamed up with fellow science teachers Liz Hunter-Drake from San Diego Unified and Tina Tom from Sweetwater School District. (insert pic of the three teachers)


Together, we created a hands-on exploratory unit about biodiversity and the ecosystem using micro:bits and weather:bits to collect field data on temperature, humidity, and light exposure. 


This data helped students assess how well our school supports pollinators. 



Implementing the Unit: Hands-On Learning and Data Analysis


Students began by using School Habitat Score Cards (See the ​​ School Habitat Score Card Revised for more info) to collect initial data on pollinator health, observing various factors like the number of pollinators, plant species, and human activities at different sites. Acting as field scientists, they downloaded code onto the micro:bit and weather:bit devices to collect data. 


Back in the classroom, students cleaned and graphed this data, making connections between their findings and pollinator health.


Throughout the unit, students were highly engaged, connecting their data to real-world concepts and proposing solutions. They collaborated in multiple ways, including a Socratic seminar where they discussed evidence and formulated questions about native plants and pollinators. 


They also used resources like Calscape, a hub for California native plants, data science resources created by Data Scientist Saura Naderi at UC San Diego, and the Understanding Global Change framework created Dr. Jessica Bean from the UC Museum of Paleontology at UC Berkeley.



Reflections and Future Improvements


This unit was a great success, empowering students to create a call to action for improving pollinator health at our school. After the pilot launch, Liz, Tina, and I agreed that we would dedicate one whole lesson to cleaning data and one whole lesson to analyzing data because there was not enough time for students to practice data cleaning and deep dive into data analysis. We also would like to provide time for our students to experiment with creating the code as a challenge task before giving students the code they needed for the data collection. This would create student ownership of the coding process and build their confidence in writing code for future projects. In the future, the goal is to have students share data nationwide to create a larger scale call to action to empower other students to use their data to improve pollinator health. 





Initially, I was intimidated by the micro:bits since I had never used them before. However, I discovered how manageable and rewarding they were! I'm impressed with my students' dedication to enhancing our school campus through their efforts to support pollinators. The data suggested that we needed to create more green spaces. There were a range of temperatures and heat hubs on certain parts of the campus that were unfriendly to pollinators. They plan to present their calls to action to the directors and board of our school.


Here’s what my students had to say about their experience:

“It has been so fun. At first, I thought I wouldn’t like using the microbits and the coding because it seemed hard. I found that I liked coding and collecting data with the microbits.  We are learning how to collect data like temperature, humidity, light exposure to help solve our problems about pollinators. I love when Ms. Davey teaches us cool new things and now I know how pollinators are!”


“My experience was very interesting because I learned that it wasn’t as complicated as I thought. I have learned how to collect data and live/think like scientists in the real world”


“Fun to use to microbits because we would go outside to collect data after we coded it.  The data we collect can be used to solve real world problems”


I hope teachers reading this blog feel encouraged to use micro:bits and computer science in their scientific investigations. Despite initial intimidation, micro:bits are highly engaging tools that can significantly enrich classroom learning.


To learn more about City Heights Preparatory Charter School, visit https://www.cityheightsprep.org/.

For more on the Climate Champions Design Summit, visit https://www.sdscienceproject.org/climate-design-summits.


If you have questions or want to be part of the trial of this unit, contact Rachel Davey (rdavey@cityheightsprep.org).





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