Data Collected by Peers
explore ways to assess the accuracy and reliability of data reported
by Journey North observers.
1 period and ongoing during the season
As part of
Journey North's Internet Field Team, your students collect backyard observations
and share them with classrooms across North America. This throng of student
observers expand the eyes and ears of scientists in ways never before possible.
But in order for the data to be valid and useful, these observations must
be accurate. How can we assess their reliability?
The scientific community employs a formal review process through which scientists
present and defend their observations, data, and findings to colleagues (peers)
via scientific journals and conferences. If a scientist were to make an unusual
or unexpected field observation, he or she would be expected to provide a photograph,
have corroboration from a colleague, or provide a thorough and convincing description
of what was observed.
North asks observers to follow specific protocols for each study. However,
with so many observers, there are many opportunities for error. This
lesson helps your young scientists question and try to validate data
reported by Journey North observers.
Laying the Groundwork
to students that Journey North projects rely on observations from
students in many classrooms across North America.
- Ask, How
do you think collecting reports from these Internet classmates
benefits each study? List responses in one column.
- In another
column list responses to this question: What drawbacks or challenges
do you think this poses? Accept student responses. They'll have
a chance to consider some of the challenges to getting reliable data
in the next section.
- The following
sightings were reported by Journey North observers. Have your class
read one or more of these. For each one, ask, Do you trust this
piece of data? Why or why not? If the sighting seems unusual,
ask, What factors could have caused this? (For instance,
observer error, strange weather or winds.) What questions would
you ask the observer?
kindergardener in Minnesota reported a sighting of
500 monarchs in Minnesota in February. The kindergarden
teacher said her students were just learning to identify
monarchs at the time.
school in North Dakota reported their tulips emerging
on February 19. The report said that the nights were
still very cold and they had to cover to keep them
surprising report arrived on September 1, 2003. A monarch
was sighted across the Atlantic ocean!
April 9, a monarch was reported in New Jersey. Other
monarchs reported at the time were in Georgia, Alabama,
Kansas, and Missouri. The New Jersey report was sent
by a naturalist who tags hundreds of monarchs each
student in College Station, Texas, reported seeing
his first monarch on May 20. Many monarchs were reported
in Texas in March and April.
New York student was on vacation in Florida in April.
She reported sighting the first monarch there.
the types of questions students think they should ask to verify accuracy
of an observation. For instance:
is the observer and what is his/her level of experience?
the observer participated in this project in previous
the observer following Journey North's protocol?
regularly was the observer watching for monarchs (robins,
hummingbirds, etc.) before reporting the first one in
the observer likely to have seen a monarch in his or
her region, given the average temperature and climate?
When Jim Hateli's second-grade students were confused about an early
monarch sighting in New Jersey, they decided it must be a mistake!
But when they questioned the reliability of the observation, they discovered
that an expert naturalist reported the sighting. They decided to trust
its accuracy. Throughout the scientific process all data and information
should be scrutinized and verified — even if it came from primary
- As updates
arrive this spring, have students read them carefully for clues about the
quality of each observation. They should routinely ask, "Do
new observations fit established patterns? What other factors might
have affected the accuracy of the report?"
If your students question the accuracy of an observer's data, encourage them
to e-mail the observer directly. The e-mail address is included with all
entries for this purpose. Take this opportunity to teach your students how
collaboration works in the scientific community.
Connections — Discussion and Journaling Questions
- Ask, How
do you decide when you can trust information? Do you put more confidence
in certain books? Newspapers? People? Discuss the criteria you
students to interview adults about how they judge the reliability
of the different information sources in their lives. They might ask,
for instance, "Do you believe everything you see, hear, and
read? What's an example of misinformation you've gotten? What questions
do you ask about new information?"
students review new data submitted by Journey North observers, check
that they routinely ask critical questions about its accuracy.
Science Education Standards
Ask a question
about objects, organisms, events. (K-4)
make the results of their investigations public; they describe the
investigations in ways that enable others to repeat the investigations.
and engineers often work in teams with different individuals doing
different things that contribute to the results. (K-4)
It is part
of scientific inquiry to evaluate the results of scientific investigations,
experiments, observations, theoretical models, and the explanations
proposed by other scientists. (5-8)