Digital Data Nuggets on DataClassroom!

We are so excited to announce that we have partnered with our friends at DataClassroom to create new “Digital Data Nuggets“! These activities allow your students to easily make beautiful graphs, develop their data literacy abilities, do statistics, and play with data visuals for free in the DataClassroom tool. Although offers some paid features, Digital Data Nuggets will always be available with their free version. Once you are logged in to DataClassroom, look for the Data Nuggets “DN” logo in the list of datasets.

Click here to register a free password at DataClassoom.

Click here for a quick tutorial on making graphs with DataClassroom.

DataClassroom was created by our good friend, Aaron Reedy, a former high school teacher and evolutionary biologist. He developed them as the digital data-tool that he always wished he had when he was teaching in his Chicago Public School classroom. In addition to exploring the Data Nugget datasets, DataClassroom lets students upload their own data, easily create graphs, and even conduct animated chi-square or t-tests when they are ready to move up to null hypothesis testing. Aaron is willing to demo the full DataClassroom tool for any interested teacher or school. You can directly send questions, feedback, or a request for a demo to Aaron at

Leave a comment below to let us know what you think about Digital Data Nuggets!

Presenting at the KBS K-12 Partnership Spring Workshop

It was standing room only as Marcia Angle and Liz Schultheis presented Data Nuggets at the Kellogg Biological Station K-12 Partnership Spring Workshop. The theme of the workshop was “Data, Data, Everywhere!” so it was a great fit!

We designed this session for Data Nugget “newbies” and gave a quick background on our activities, paired with a tour through the website. We then went through one of our newest Data Nuggets, “Bringing back the Trumpeter Swan” and all the cool potential extensions that can be done with this activity.

For all the materials presented in the session, check out the links below!

NABT 2018 – BEACON Evolution Symposium

Want to learn more about cutting-edge evolution research? Looking for a way to bring more data into your classroom? If so, come check out the Evolution Symposium: Emerging Research in Evolutionary Biology at this year’s National Association of Biology Teachers Conference! This year’s symposium will begin with a talk by Dr. Caroline Williams, an evolutionary biologist from the University of California, Berkeley, whose lab studies the question, how do variable environments drive the evolution of metabolic physiology in ectotherms? Climate change research historically focused on summer, and winter climate change was considered mostly beneficial due to amelioration of damaging cold. Her research is shifting this paradigm, and illustrating how variation in winter conditions drive responses of terrestrial organisms to climate change. The talk will be followed by a hands-on workshop, led by Nikki Chambers; Dr. Elizabeth Schultheis; and Dr. Melissa Kjelvik, where participants will go through a Data Nugget activity that can be used to help bring this data back to their classrooms.

The materials from the Data Nugget workshop are as follows:

Workshop organized and presented by: Caroline Williams, Nikki Chambers, Elizabeth Schultheis, Melissa Kjelvik, and Louise Mead. For more information on the NABT 2018 conference, check out their website, here.


Data Nuggets on social media!

If you’re not following Data Nuggets on social media yet, you should! We have four great ways to keep up to date about the newest Data Nuggets released and when we add new features:

First, follow us on Twitter @Data_Nuggets. We post new Data Nuggets, cool articles, and supplemental materials that can be used to dive deeper into the research in our activities.

Next, like our page on Facebook and join the new Data Nuggets group. We created this group as a space for teachers, professors, and all educators to discuss Data Nuggets and their experiences using them. Have a new innovative way that you modified a lesson and made it your own? Need suggestions for activities that can be used to teach a particular math or science concept?

Finally, you can follow our new Instagram account Data_Nuggets where we share cool images that come in from scientists when they create their Data Nuggets and photos from our conferences and workshops. You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel where we share scientists’ videos. These are two great places to search for inspiration, or to use to connect more with the people behind the data.

Thanks! Melissa and Liz

Finding the Data Nugget You Need by Math and Science Content

Not sure which Data Nugget to use next? With over 60 activities to choose from, sometimes it’s difficult to find time to read though all the descriptions and pick one that will fit your needs. From your feedback we’ve learned that you’d like to search by key science and math content within each activity. In response we created a searchable table on our website (under the “Current Data Nuggets” tab on our homepage) that will hopefully help you find the Data Nuggets that best suit your needs!

This table allows you to pick from the 60+ activities we’ve co-developed with scientists and search by the following criteria:

  • Content readability level (Flesch-Kincaid reading grade)
  • Science concepts / keywords
  • Quantitative concepts / statistics
  • Type of graph used in the activity
  • Type of variable (categorical, continuous)
  • Type of data source (raw, summarized), including a note when the full large data set is available when requested

In addition to this table, we have a few other ways you can search for Data Nuggets on our website. Other criteria you can search for include: activity summary and study location (“View in searchable table”), study area (“View on map”), and by scientist (“Meet the scientists!”). Our next step will be to include links to the key NGSS core ideas and scientific and engineering practices, so be on the lookout for that in the near future!

Written by May Lee, Data Nugget Researcher






Living Laboratories: Using islands to track natural selection in wild lizards

This post is by MSU postdocs Melissa Kjelvik and Liz Schultheis, and BEACON education director Louise Mead. See the original article on the BEACON website (reproduced below):

Aaron with a baby anole lizard.

The National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) annual Professional Development Conference provides biology educators from across the nation the opportunity to join other leaders in biology and life science education for four days of renowned speakers, hands-on workshops, informative sessions, and special events. In November 2017 the BEACON Center partnered with the American Society of Naturalists to sponsor a special symposium highlighting cutting edge evolutionary research and introducing attendees to a new study system, research questions, and related resources they could incorporate into their classrooms.

This year’s Evolution Symposium: Emerging Research in Evolutionary Biology at NABT featured a research talk by Dr. Robert Cox (Bob) on selection and fitness in anole lizards, followed by a Data Nugget activity highlighting data from his research. Bob, an evolutionary biologist from the University of Virginia, studies these charismatic lizards, native to Cuba and the Bahamas. He describes anoles as “ecological popcorn” because they are so abundant and are eaten by many organisms. In Florida, where the anoles are invasive, you can shake a bush and 10 will fall out! Bob shared an amazing talk describing his lab’s research on brown anoles and the challenges and opportunities of studying natural selection in the wild. Bob uses real-time studies of wild animal populations to understand the ecological basis of natural selection as it happens. He chose to work with anoles because they are ideal organisms for studies of natural selection; they are abundant, easy to catch, and have short lifespans.

When Charles Darwin talked about the “struggle for existence” he was making the observation that many individuals in the wild don’t survive long enough to reach adulthood. Many die before they have the chance to reproduce and pass on their genes to the next generation. Darwin also noted that in every species there is variation in physical traits such as size, color, and shape. Is it simply that those who survive to reproduce are lucky, or do these traits affect which individuals have a greater or lesser chance of surviving? While evolutionary biology is often viewed as a historical science, exploring processes that have played out over millions of years, Bob stressed that natural selection, the primary force of adaptive evolution, is happening all the time and can be measured in natural populations! Along with field studies, Bob and his lab use genetic methods to help them track the reproductive success of thousands of individuals across multiple generations. Experimental manipulations of predators and competitors also help in understanding the ecological basis of natural selection.

An anole lizard on the island, about to be captured by Aaron.

The talk was followed by a hands-on workshop, led by Aaron Reedy, Elizabeth Schultheis, and Melissa Kjelvik, where participants worked together as students on two Data Nugget activities. This open time gives teachers the opportunity to have discussions about connections to educational standards or pedagogical strategies that are helpful for them to translate the research and associated data back to their classroom settings. Data Nuggets ( are free classroom activities, designed to improve the scientific and quantitative abilities of K-16 students by providing them with authentic data collected by practicing scientists. The research in Data Nuggets on the anole lizards focused on two traits – their size, and their dewlaps. The Data Nuggets take students through the process of exploring two different hypotheses.  In Part I students calculate and graph %survival of lizards according to their size at the beginning of the season, to explore the hypothesis that size influences survival and overall fitness.  In Part II, students graph % survival as a function of dewlap size. The dewlap is an extendable red and yellow flap of skin on their throat. To communicate with other brown anoles, they extend their dewlap and move their head and body. Males have particularly large dewlaps, which they often display in territorial defense against other males and during courtship with females. Females have much smaller dewlaps and use them less often. This trait comes with a trade off – while it attracts the desired attention of females, it also attracts predators. There could be sexual selection favoring this trait, while natural selection works against it.

In these and other Data Nugget activities, students read background information on a study system and scientist, graph and interpret authentic data from their research, and use their graphs to construct explanations based on sound reasoning and evidence. By relying on authentic research and data, Data Nuggets’ innovative approach reveals to students how the process of science really works, while building their quantitative abilities and interest in science. One teacher from the workshop shared that, “the beauty of the activity is in the simplicity,” which is a great testament to Bob and Aaron’s ability to take complex evolution research and distill it down to a core message. The Data Nuggets include the story behind Aaron and Bob’s research to further engage students in the journey taken by the scientist as they formulated their research questions and ideas.

For more information, and to check out the talk slides and Data Nuggets, check out this page. To learn more about Bob and the research in his lab, check out his webpage, and to learn more about Aaron’s research and outreach, check out his website.


NABT 2017 – BEACON Evolution Symposium

For more information on the NABT 2017 conference, check out their website, here.

For more information on the 2017 Evolution Symposium, check out our blog post here.

Want to learn more about cutting-edge evolution research? Looking for a way to bring more data into your classroom? If so, come check out the Evolution Symposium: Emerging Research in Evolutionary Biology at this year’s NABT Conference! This year’s symposium will begin with a talk by Dr. Robert Cox, an evolutionary biologist from the University of Virginia, whose lab studies these charismatic lizards, native to Cuba and the Bahamas. While evolution is often viewed in a historical sense, playing out over millions of years, Robert’s research focuses on evolution in action that can be observed today. The talk will be followed by a hands-on workshop, led by Aaron Reedy; Dr. Elizabeth Schultheis; and Dr. Melissa Kjelvik, where participants will go through a Data Nugget activity that can be used to help bring this data back to their classrooms.

The materials from the Data Nugget workshop are as follows:

Workshop organized and presented by: Robert Cox, Aaron ReedyElizabeth Schultheis, Melissa Kjelvik, and Louise Mead
















Data Nuggets: Inspired by teachers, created using authentic research data

This post is by Data Nugget researchers Liz Schultheis and Melissa Kjelvik. See the original article on the MSTA Newsletter website (reproduced below):

Back when we were biology graduate students, we were first exposed to science education through the GK-12 program at the Kellogg Biological Station. We were each assigned a partner teacher who would mentor us as we taught lessons and shared our research with students for the first time. The experience of standing up in front of 30 middle school students was definitely intimidating! Initially we struggled to simplify and explain our research, while also making it engaging for an audience who may never have thought about these ideas before. However we quickly improved as the teachers stood in the back of the classroom and waved their arms when students checked out because we’d used too much jargon or started to nerd-out. They pushed us to describe why the things we were doing day-to-day mattered for the big picture. The teachers’ infectious enthusiasm boosted the passion we had for our research. Working with these teachers and their students quickly became our favorite time of the week.

These same teachers shared that their students were struggling when faced with data from classroom inquiry projects that turned out messy or did not follow predictions. Typically, students are only exposed to research and data published in textbooks, leading to the misconception that all science is a completed product with well established ideas and clear results. As graduate students we had access to tons of messy data from our own dissertations, and we felt by sharing our research stories we might be able to help students realize that when doing “real science” things are bound to be unexpected and unclear. Over time, we developed Data Nuggets from these ideas. Data Nuggets are classroom activities that bring students through the entire process of science, sharing the story of the scientist behind the data and an authentic dataset from their work. Students are challenged to graph and interpret the data, determining whether the data supports the scientist’s hypothesis or what future research would be necessary to fully answer their questions. Data Nuggets are also a way for us to share what we learned as GK-12 fellows with other scientists, as we guide them through the process of creating a Data Nugget of their own.

This past summer we were lucky to work with some of these same teachers again. As a group we read through student responses to Data Nuggets. This was a powerful way to identify areas we could improve to encourage deep student thinking and rich classroom discussions. While reading student responses, the teachers collectively noticed that students had a difficult time using evidence to support their claims, so they developed a tool to scaffold students into this process. To learn more about Data Nuggets and the tool they developed, make sure to come to our MSTA workshop Data Nuggets: Scaffolding claim-evidence-reasoning using real data in context.

As we continue to develop Data Nuggets, we are exploring the challenges and opportunities created when using real data in the classroom. Today we have 54 Data Nuggets (and counting) on our website, freely available and used by thousands of teachers and students. We are currently funded on a National Science Foundation Discovery Research pre-K-12 grant. The main objective of the collaborative grant, between MSU and Biological Science Curriculum Study (BSCS), is to assess whether Data Nuggets increase students’ quantitative reasoning abilities, along with their understanding of, and engagement with, science.

NABT 2016 – BEACON Evolution Symposium

The color polymorphism in bluefin killifish – males display anal fins in blue, red, or yellow.

Why so blue? The determinants of color pattern in killifish

For more information on the NABT 2016 conference, check out their website, here.

Why be blue in a swamp? The evolution of color patterns and color vision in killifish

Animal communication happens when one organism emits a signal, which then travels through the environment and is detected by the sensory system of another. The environment in which signaling occurs can dramatically alter signal transmission and result in selection where different signals are favored in different environments. The bluefin killifish provide a compelling example. Some populations are found in crystal clear springs (where UV and blue light are highly abundant) and others are found in tannin-stained swamps (where UV/blue light is depauperate). Paradoxically, males with blue color patterns are abundant in swamps and are rare in springs. The resolution to this paradox requires a consideration of how genetics and the environment influence trait expression, as well as the direction of natural and sexual selection in different habitat types, and the manner in which animals with different visual systems perceive the same color pattern.

Data Nugget Workshop: Why so blue? The determinants of color pattern in killifish

Data Nuggets are hands-on activities designed to improve the scientific and quantitative skills of students by having them graph and interpret scientific data gathered by practicing scientists. This workshop will provide an overview of Data Nuggets and present a Data Nugget featuring data on the genetic and environmental basis of color pattern expression in killifish. This Data Nugget will allow students to determine whether color pattern expression is due to ‘nature’ (e.g., genetics), ‘nurture’ (e.g. environment), or the interaction of the two.

beaconThe materials from the Data Nugget workshop are as follows:

Workshop organized and presented by: Becky Fuller, Elizabeth Schultheis, Melissa Kjelvik, Alexa Warwick, and Louise Mead


Lobsters out of water: Scientists at film camp in Maine


This post is by MSU graduate student Carina Baskett. See the original article on the BEACON webpage (reproduced below):

Carina and her fellow science communicator Klara Scharnagl making a stop at Niagara Falls on the way back from a film workshop in Maine.

Carina and her fellow science communicator Klara Scharnagl making a stop at Niagara Falls on the way back from a film workshop in Maine.

My colleague Klara Scharnagl had a great idea. “Let’s shoot it from the perspective of a vegetable!” As a scientist, I don’t usually go to work expecting to hear a sentence like that! But yes, we did end up shooting a short video at a farmer’s market from the perspective of a love-struck melon, all in the name of science education.

Klara and I were at a weeklong film workshop in Maine the first week of September to improve our filmmaking skills. We are working on a BEACON-funded project with Melissa Kjelvik, Liz Schultheis, Travis Hagey, and Anna Groves to make videos for classrooms about scientists. The videos will accompany Data Nuggets (DNs), which are exercises for K-12 and undergraduate students to practice working with data from real, current research. DNs were co-developed by MSU graduate students and K-12 teachers.

The goals of the videos are two-fold. First, we aim to redefine how students see science and scientists by featuring researchers from diverse backgrounds, giving students more face time with the scientists than they can get from a photo in a DN. Second, we aim to enhance evolution education by showing how data is collected and presenting information in an alternative media to the standard written descriptions.

A Maine lobster dinner was the cherry on top of the film workshop sundae!

A Maine lobster dinner was the cherry on top of the film workshop sundae!

On top of those goals, there is the overriding need for the videos to be engaging, and the first, somewhat invisible step toward that goal is to be technically proficient. Klara and I each have experience with science outreach and a smattering of the requisite technical skills for filmmaking, but we needed more training and experience with videos. So we found a workshop, “Documentary Camera” at a school called Maine Media.

Klara and I were the only scientists out of the 11 students in the class. In fact, some of the students said that we were the only scientists they had ever met. Being in a classroom where I was clueless and surrounded by people more expert than me was a lot like being a first-year graduate student again! But it was fun to learn so much.

To practice the techniques that we would be using for the DN videos, Klara and I made a “pilot.” We decided that it had to be about plants or lichens (the organisms that we study), not humans or animals, because a major challenge of the DN videos will be to tell engaging stories about organisms and questions that aren’t inherently exciting to most of the population. Personally, I find plants and lichens to be a lot more exciting than, say, sports, but I realize I’m in the minority with that view.

The closest we could come to interviewing a plant expert was to go to an “herbal apothecary,” a pharmacy where all the medicines and remedies come from plants. The message of the video was to get viewers excited about the chemicals that plants make, by pointing out that traditional and many modern medicines come from plants, and then slip in some biology by asking why plants make these chemicals (generally to defend themselves from pests and disease).

We visited the apothecary on short notice, and were able to snag a quick interview with a gardener. When asked, “Plants don’t make these chemicals for human use. Why do they?” she said, “How do we know they don’t make them for humans? Hmm, I’ll have to think about that.” This was an informative moment for us in a couple ways.

First, it was a good reminder that a lot of the scientific knowledge we take for granted, and even the questions that scientists think to ask, are not common sense. Even someone whose job it is to work with plants and the chemicals they manufacture was not considering the evolutionary explanation for why plants have these adaptations that we are co-opting. Yet it would be helpful for someone working with plant medicine to have an understanding that related plants might manufacture similar compounds and that the environmental context (such as an outbreak of caterpillars on a plant) might affect the drugs that they are harvesting. That’s why evolution education and outreach are so important!

Second, the interview was good practice for the DN videos because we aren’t always going to get a nice, video-ready sound bite from everyone we talk to. Some of the scientists we interview might use too much jargon and be unable to make their research approachable. But that’s why we will include narration and drawings to guide the narrative. We ended up using the gardener’s quote about why she thinks plants are amazing and exciting, and we provided the explanation of why plants make chemicals that we use for medicine.

So was our science communication effective? On the last day of the workshop, participants from several classes ate an amazing dinner of Maine lobster, and then watched each other’s projects. It was funny to see our educational video mixed in with a beautifully shot piece showing a nearby harbor as the catch was being brought in; with a portrait of a pair of local artists whose house is covered in drawings; and with some dramatic fictional pieces from another class. When I asked everyone afterward, “So why do plants make chemicals that we use for medicine?” almost all of them answered correctly. If we can reach a group of filmmakers who didn’t even know there would be a quiz, hopefully we can have an impact on students, by helping to make Data Nuggets just a little more delicious.

You can watch our 5-minute video below! And if you have an extra few minutes and wouldn’t mind giving us some feedback, please click here.