Increase your broader impacts with Data Nuggets



This week we have a special guest post by Elizabeth Schultheis, a PhD candidate at Michigan State University and the Kellogg Biological Station, to describe her Data Nuggets project. Previous guest posts have discussed other great projects happening in the scientific community, including improving scientific reproducibility and the role of pre-prints making research available more quickly and to a broader audience. Data Nuggets is a great way to invest in the scientific community of the future by making research accessible to K-12 educators and students in new and exciting ways.

Broader impacts can be hard.

We’ve all had that moment while writing an NSF grant proposal where we have to discuss the broader impacts of our research and demonstrate that our work contributes to society. The NSF makes it clear that they highly value projects with significant broader impacts; grants that do not explicitly address them will be returned without review, and some reviewers give them equal weight to the intellectual merit of a project when making funding decisions. Additionally, it is no longer enough to train undergraduates when performing our research, or TA a course where we discuss our research. The NSF is looking for creative answers to their call for projects that both improve our understanding of science and benefit society.

 But they don’t have to be.

Data Nuggets were designed to help scientists improve their communication skills and share the story of their research with a broad audience. When creating a Data Nugget you increase your broader impacts by:

  • Improving STEM education at all levels, including K-12 and undergraduate classrooms
  • Increasing your public outreach by disseminating your research findings to a broad audience and putting your data into a format that nonscientists can understand
  • Making science relatable by sharing your journey of exploration and discovery with students, increasing the passion for science and retention in STEM fields
  • Providing a snippet of data from your research, allowing students to analyze and interpret messy, real data as opposed to the polished data in textbooks that is not a realistic outcome of experimentation
  • Showing students that scientists are not all old men in lab coats, but can be done in a variety of settings by anyone with a passion for the natural world

What are Data Nuggets?

Data Nuggets are worksheets that bring data collected by scientists into the classroom, giving students the chance to work with real data – and all its complexities. By working with real data, students practice interpreting quantitative information and making claims based on evidence. The standard format of each Nugget provides a brief background to a researcher and their study system along with a small, manageable dataset. Students are challenged to answer a scientific question, use the dataset to support their claim, and construct graphs to facilitate data interpretation. Because of their simplicity and flexibility, Data Nuggets can be used throughout the school year as students build confidence in their science and quantitative skills.

Making your own Data Nugget

So what do you need to do to make a Data Nugget from your own research? Basically, you need to tell a story about your research and the process that lead you to your ideas and questions. This story should be written in a very accessible format, leaving out jargon or unnecessary complicated subjects. With this story you share a small dataset from your work, and a short description of your interpretation of these findings to help teachers discuss this topic with students in class.

We have detailed instructions available on our website to guide you through the steps of making a Data Nugget. Use our template to guide you through each simple step. We also have presentation slides and some cool resources in case you’re feeling stuck and need some inspiration. We are so excited to help you create a Data Nugget of your own; please contact Liz ( or Melissa ( if you have any questions!

Future of Data Nuggets

Our next step for Data Nuggets is to formally assess improvements in student learning and attitudes about science when using these worksheets as part of their curriculum. We hope that soon scientists who create Data Nuggets will not only be able to say they have created a resource that is used in classrooms across the country, but that they are part of a project that improves students’ scientific understanding and comfort using quantitative data to answer questions.

For updates on Data Nuggets, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter! Our first journal publication is coming out in the American Biology Teacher in their January 2015 issue.

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