Ryan Carlson believes that developing 21st century skills is imperative to students’ success—both in college and in their careers. As such, Carlson, who has been teaching for the last 17 years at Richmond-Burton Community High School, is constantly looking for new and innovative ways to help students build those skills through engaging, data-rich learning opportunities.  

Making a Shift

More than 10 years ago, Carlson and the biology learning team at Richmond-Burton shifted from traditional experimentation to using themed units designed to have students investigate body systems and how the human body works. This process included finding and developing hands-on investigations that produced consistent data for students to analyze.

“We also wanted to ensure all the investigations included question prompts aligned to Career and College Readiness Standards,” said Carlson. “We made modifications to the investigations as needed to make sure this was the case.”

“Our team ended up incorporating a lot of the experiments from Human Physiology Experiments instead of going with ‘typical’ biology experiments because these experiments produced reliable and predictable data sets,” added Carlson. “With the Vernier experiments, students are able to spend time developing their analytical skills instead of struggling with protocols or redoing an experiment. Students produce spectacular data all the time—it’s beautiful, and they love it.”

The experiments in Human Physiology Experiments gave Carlson’s students the opportunity to collaborate with each other, use technology to collect data, and think critically about their findings—three important 21st century skills. 

Going Remote

When COVID-19 led to remote learning, Carlson and his team again had to make some shifts to engage students in the learning process. At first, this involved recording experiments for students to watch on YouTube™ and sharing accompanying data sets for them to analyze at home.

This later involved Carlson sharing data collected from the Go Direct® Hand Dynamometer with students by embedding the data files into Pivot Interactives and then using that platform to deliver customized experiment questions and protocols to his students. Then, with the release of the Graphical Analysis Pro app and its data sharing functionality, students watched the live experiments taking place side by side with data in real time.

“I can use a Hand-Grip Heart Rate Monitor, for example, and students can literally see my heart rate rise as I run,” said Carlson. “Graphical Analysis Pro gives students access to data they need to work on important skills and process information critically. It really delivers measurable results.”

The Graphical Analysis Pro app allows educators and students to easily insert, view, and sync a video to sensor data for analysis, and it offers the ability to perform live experiments and share that data over the internet in real time. Whether learning is happening remotely or in person, students can experience real experiments, analyze and graph data, and connect abstract concepts to real-world applications, such as measuring heart rate or analyzing grip strength. 

“Graphical Analysis Pro also helped us transition from printing out our data sets to sharing the data files digitally,” said Carlson. “This allowed each student to analyze multiple data sets, which further developed their College Readiness skills. With the app, each student has the opportunity to draw predictions and determine max, min, mean, curve fits, and more.” 

Looking Ahead

Even with hybrid learning in place, Carlson is continuing to use Graphical Analysis Pro because students can’t physically conduct many of the experiments due to social distancing protocols.

“Students are still able to collaborate and discuss data together at the same time regardless of whether they are in person or at home,” Carlson said. “Even after COVID, Graphical Analysis Pro will continue to be an excellent resource if students aren’t able to come to school on any given day for whatever reason.”

“Vernier enables us as educators to provide purposeful, engaging, and data-driven activities regardless of the situation,” he added. “With the in-demand careers in our area, employers want learners who can think and process information critically, come up with sound conclusions, use math correctly with data sets, and effectively work through the redesign and iteration processes. All of the experiments and units we work on with our students are designed to help them with those skills, and the use of Vernier technology has played a big part in it.”

About the Educator

Ryan Carlson
Richmond-Burton High School
Richmond, IL

Ryan Carlson is an AP biology, biology, and marine biology educator, as well as department head, at Richmond-Burton High School, where he has taught for the last 17 years.