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Do we have a magic flute for K-12 Web Science?

October 27th, 2015

In early July of 2015, Tetherless World Constellation (TWC) opened its door for four young men of the 2015 summer program of Rensselaer Research Experience for High School Students. The program covered a period of four weeks and each student was asked to choose a small and focused topic for research experience. They each were also asked to prepared a poster and present it in public at the end of the program.

Web Science was the discipline chosen by the four high school students at TWC. Before their arrival several professors, research scientists and graduate students formed a mentoring group, and officially I was assigned the task to mentor two of the four students. Such a fresh experience! And then a question came up was: do we have a curriculum of Web Science for High School Students? And for a period of four weeks? We do have excellent textbooks for Semantic Web, Data Science, and more, but most of them are not for high school students. Also the ‘research centric’ feature of the summer program indicated that we should not focus only on teaching but perhaps needed to spend more time on advising a small research project.

My simple plan was, for week 1 we focused on basic concepts, for weeks 2 and 3 the students were assigned a specific topic taken from an existing project, and for week 4 we focused on result analysis, wrap up and poster preparation. A google doc was used to record the basic concepts, technical resources and assignments we introduced and discussed in week 1. I thought those materials could be a little bit more for the students, but to my surprise they took them up really fast, which gave me the confidence to assign them research topics from ongoing projects. One of the students was asked to do statistical analysis of records on the Deep Carbon Observatory Data Portal, and presented the results in interactive visualizations. The other student worked on the visualization of geologic time and connections to Web resources such as Wikipedia. Technologies used were RDF database, SPARQL query, JavaScript, D3.js and JSON data format.

Hope the short program has evoked the students’ interest to explore more and deeper in Web Science. Some of them will soon graduate from high school and go to universities. Wish them good luck!

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