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NSF Awards $1.3M to Transform Science Learning

Students to Become ‘Data Scientists’

Teachers from the Lowell Public Schools participated in an iSENSE workshop held in collaboration with the Tsongas Industrial History Center in August at the UMass Lowell Bellegarde Boathouse.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a grant totaling $1.3 million to UMass Lowell and its partners to introduce young students to cyberlearning in the classroom and help prepare them for the ‘deluge’ of data produced by modern science.

“We’ll focus on training middle-school and high-school students to become ‘data scientists’ engaged in collecting, sharing and visualizing scientific data over the Internet,” says computer science Assoc. Prof. Fred Martin, who is the project’s principal investigator. 

The project’s core technology is an interactive web platform called the Internet System for Networked Sensor Experimentation, or iSENSE. Developed with support from the NSF’s Advanced Learning Technologies program and Google, iSENSE provides a shared repository of user-contributed classroom activities, such as tabletop science experiments, environmental analyses, engineering projects and surveys, together with the data generated by these activities.

“The system features tools that enable users to create their own experiments, upload and tag data, and configure, save and share dynamic visual representations of the data,” says Martin.
Asst. Prof. Michelle Scribner-MacLean of the Graduate School of Education is co-principal investigator for the project. Other partners include Sheila Kirschbaum of the Tsongas Industrial History Center in Lowell and Sam Christy and Ivan Rudnicki of Machine Science Inc. in Cambridge. 

For its part, UMass Lowell will receive $1.058 million; the rest of the funds will go to Machine Science.

Making Sense of Data

iSENSE will provide new ways for teachers and students to represent, interpret and analyze scientific data and to develop and post their own activities and data. Applications for smartphones and tablet computers will allow these devices to be used as mobile platforms for collecting, retrieving and displaying data. Teachers and students may also participate in an on-line community and “follow” one another’s activities through social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook.

UMass Lowell and Machine Science plan to deploy and integrate iSENSE technology in public school districts in Lowell, Lawrence and Cambridge, as well as the Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston and the Windham High School in Windham, both in New Hampshire.

A total of 30 educators will participate over the four-year project, each receiving more than 70 hours of professional training and development and ongoing support in teaching with iSENSE. During each year of the grant, 24 classes of students will take part in outdoor environmental exploration and an ongoing water-quality study of the Merrimack River using the iSENSE technology.

“The NSF project will enhance the science education of an estimated 2,300 students, more than half of whom are from racially diverse and economically disadvantaged urban communities,” says Martin. “Over the longer term, we intend to position iSENSE as a resource for educators and students across the country, providing a web platform for the exchange of classroom activities and collaborative science experimentation.”