Students delve into data and get creative to tell science stories about the Hudson Valley

Denise Manuel, Gizelle Dominguez, and Emily Pagan from Woodlands Middle School investigated impacts of the invasive zebra mussel on the Hudson River food web. The team won an award for 'Best Use of Visual Arts'. Credit: Pam Freeman.
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Sixth annual Hudson Data Jam Awards Expo features creative work by regional students

(Millbrook, NY) In an enthusiastic flurry of posters, costumes, headphones, and baked goods, regional students came together to participate in the sixth annual Hudson Data Jam Awards Expo. This year, the event was hosted in the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies' new Conference Center.

Developed by Cary Institute educators, Data Jam challenges middle and high school students to explore real-world datasets, ask and answer questions, and produce a creative project to share what they find. More than 220 students in grades 6-12 took part in the 2019 competition.

Shelly Forster, an Education Program Leader at Cary Institute says, "The most inspiring part of Data Jam is the extraordinary commitment that the students make throughout the process. They learn the ins and outs of local science research, immerse themselves in challenging datasets, write extremely detailed reports, and then still have the energy to find a fun and creative way to share their findings."

"I'm proud of all that the students and their teachers accomplish during Data Jam and every year I look forward to learning from them and celebrating their efforts at the Expo. My favorite part of the process is watching the video highlight reel of student projects at the Expo and cheering and laughing with the teams when they see their work up on the big screen."

(Left) Aaralyn Gravagna from Oakwood Friends School plays trivia with two Cary REUs ­– student researchers who are spending the summer working with scientists at Cary Institute as part of the Research Experience for Undergraduates program. (Right) Leandra Costa and Gabriel Heiter discuss their project on the hydrology of Wappinger Creek with Cary Institute President Josh Ginsberg. Credit: Pam Freeman.

So how does Data Jam work? First, participants select a dataset collected by professional scientists or research agencies who have shared their data with Hudson Data Jam. Topics are wide-ranging and include things like how environmental conditions influence ticks, PCB concentrations in Hudson River fish, and the migration of birds in Dutchess County. Next, students develop a research question around that dataset. After exploring the question quantitatively, students express their findings creatively.

This year, creative projects included videos, newscasts, comics, poems, songs, social media, and an interactive trivia game. Each team also submitted a poster depicting the dataset they used, graphs that capture trends in the data, and an outreach plan for communicating their science story to the general public.

Each submission is judged by a scientist, an educator, and an artist. Winners are announced at the annual Data Jam Expo, where students share their projects with family, friends, peers, and Cary scientists.

View a selection of winning projects and see the complete list of 2019 Hudson Data Jam winners here.

Award winners from the 2019 Hudson Data Jam Competition show off their certificates at the Awards Expo at Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. Credit: Pam Freeman.

2019 participants included students from Anne M. Dorner Middle School, Clarkstown High School, Eximius College Preparatory Academy, Fox Lane High School, Hudson Montessori School, Irvington Middle School, Marymount School of New York, Millbrook School, New Rochelle High School, Oakwood Friends School, Ossining High School, Poughkeepsie Day School, Stissing Mountain Junior High School, and Woodlands Middle School.

Max Payano, Channy Minyettys, Moises Yi, and Natalie Alevante, students at Eximius College Preparatory Academy, won the ‘Overall’ award for high school entries for their project ‘The Hudson River Mission’, which looked at relationships between fish populations, salinity, and dissolved oxygen levels in the Lower Hudson Valley estuaries. Credit: Pam Freeman.

Here are a few project highlights:

With their project ‘Im-peck-able Timing’, Taseri Brown, Alejandra Calderón, and Adelina Ascione looked at the timing of migratory bird arrivals in Dutchess County, NY, and compared these data with trends in temperature. They noticed that both temperature rise and bird arrival are happening earlier in the spring. Early bird arrival becomes problematic when arrival timing does not coincide with things like budburst and insect emergence, since insects are a key food source for birds. If food is scarce, birds will not be able to successfully nest or continue their northward migration. The group created Twitter accounts for the six bird species that they studied and staged conversations between the birds about their spring travel plans.

Taseri Brown, Alejandra Calderón, and Adelina Ascione, students at Oakwood Friends School, won the middle school 'Level 1' award for their project on spring bird arrivals in Dutchess County. Credit: Pam Freeman.

The creators of ‘To Bee or Not to Bt: That is the Question’, Milla Berg, Anjun Yang, Ada Loeding-Matthews, and Dallas Tulloch, explored the effects of Bt corn, a genetically modified crop containing the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis, on honeybees in the US. The bacteria in Bt corn is harmful to insects, and is designed to act as a built-in pesticide – but does it harm bees? The students found that with increasing prevalence of Bt corn in the US, overall insecticide use has declined. Although honey bees remain in decline, decreasing insecticide use seems to have slowed this trend in the US.  

Milla Berg, Anjun Yang, Ada Loeding-Matthews, and Dallas Tulloch, students at Oakwood Friends School, won an ‘Honorable Mention’ for the middle school level for their project ‘To Bee or Not to Bt’. Credit: Pam Freeman.

Aaralyn Gravagna and Naia Personious staged a trial between a local New York dairy farmer and a representative of a large national dairy producer to decide which is better: buying dairy products from local farms, or opting for cheaper alternatives found in supermarket chains? Their research question centered around trends in success of small dairy farms compared to large producers. Who generates more revenue? And how does cross-country transport impact companies’ and consumers’ carbon footprints? The team produced a video of the trial and created an accompanying trivia game to engage Data Jam Expo attendees.

Aaralyn Gravagna and Naia Personious, students at Oakwood Friends School, investigated the economic and environmental benefits of buying local dairy products. Credit: Pam Freeman.

Jared Heggenstaller and Ben Hambleton looked at data on pollen found in lakebed soil cores extracted from Lake Minnewaska and Mohonk Lake in New York’s Shawangunk Ridge. Containing pollen samples dating back to the Pleistocene, these cores reveal regional shifts in tree species composition and abundance over millions of years. These shifts coincide with changes in climate, which influence the species found in a particular region. They distilled their findings into a comic depicting the time travelling ventures of a boy with terrible allergies. Tired of being teased for his explosive sneezes, he hops between epochs to find which is the least sniffle-inducing, based on the trees that were abundant at the time. 

Jared Heggenstaller and Ben Hambleton, students at Stissing Mountain Junior High School, looked at data on tree pollen found in soil cores extracted from lakebeds the Shawangunks. Changes in pollen indicate shifts in tree species composition over time. They won the award for 'Best Climate Change Project'. Credit: Pam Freeman.

Noah Curtis, Nick McPherson, Sarah Griffin, and Joshua Dolansky investigated salt pollution in Wappinger Creek and the effects of rising salinity on aquatic organisms. Salinization is largely a result of winter road salting; natural weathering processes also release salts into watersheds. The team connected salinity spikes with severe winter precipitation; more snow means more salt is needed to keep roads safe. The team produced a video, 'Salt Pollution in Wappinger Creek: Learning From Our Ancestors', to share the story of the creek's increasing saltiness – as told by two resident fish, a father-daughter duo. 

Noah Curtis, Nick McPherson, Sarah Griffin, and Joshua Dolansky, students at Stissing Mountain Junior High School, won an ‘Honorable Mention’ award for the middle school level for their project on salt pollution in Wapppinger Creek. Credit: Pam Freeman.

Thank you to our generous sponsors:

Support for the Hudson Data Jam Competition was provided by Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, M&T Bank, Jane W. Nuhn Charitable Trust, Adams Fairacre Farms, Central Hudson, Chazen Companies, Price Chopper Golub Foundation, and the New York State Environmental Protection Fund through the Hudson River Estuary Program of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

We are grateful to the following research agencies for contributing datasets for student use:

  • Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries River and Estuary Observatory Network
  • Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
  • Day in the Life of the Hudson River
  • The Eel Project (NYSDEC/HRNERR/WRI)
  • Hudson River Environmental Conditions Observing System (HRECOS)
  • New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC)
  • New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH)
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  • Riverkeeper
  • Scenic Hudson
  • Thomas Brosnan, Andrew Stoddard, & Leo Hetling (The Hudson River Estuary)
  • United States Historical Climatology Network & United States Geological Survey
  • Vassar College

Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies | Millbrook, New York 12545 | Tel (845) 677-5343

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