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Teaching with Data: Finding Trends in Environmental Data

Resources & Strategies for Faculty Teaching Undergraduates

Finding Trends in Environmental Data

Faculty Author: Lisa Collins  

Course: Environmental Studies 495

Department or School: The Environmental Studies Program

Student Population: Senior Environmental Studies majors

Duration: 9 weeks


  • Data file
  • Citation list
  • Data graphs
  • Final research paper (2,000 word)

Keywords: writing, data, analysis, essay, research paper, environmental, statistical analysis

Summary:  In groups, students create hypotheses to test using environmental data, including temperature records. Each student produces a research paper with their results and a comparison to the peer-­‐reviewed literature.

Assignment Goals:  In this assignment you will be put into a group of 2-­‐3 students and assigned a data series to download, manipulate and analyze. The main focus of the data gathered relates to environmental problems facing southern California. Using all your previous ENST coursework, you will create a hypothesis that you will test with your data. You are expected to compare your results to the peer-­‐reviewed literature to see how it agrees with other work being done on the problem in southern California.
Use Microsoft Excel and the free statistical computing software R and R Studio. In-­‐class exercises with shared data will help you walk through the process of importing and analyzing data in R and graphing data in Excel.

Each individual student will write a 2,000 word (8 pages) research paper analyzing their topic. This paper will include graphs and figures to illustrate what the data say and the interpretation of what that means. Each paper should cite at least 8 peer-­‐reviewed papers. A separate handout on the expected format will be given out.

Recommended Tools:

  • Dropbox (for data files)
  • Microsoft Excel
  • R
  • R Studio
  • National Climatic Data Center database (NOAA)
  • Blackboard LMS
  • Microsoft Word or other word-­‐processing program

Faculty Author Advice:  You have to devote enough time, syllabus, and grade to the project for appropriate compensation for the time students are spending on the project. This was too large a project to have completed by mid-­‐semester. Next time I do this project I would increase the scaffolding, to keep students on track, and force them to work in teams and do presentations. Perhaps write less but write better and analyze the data more critically.