Lesson: Data 101

Lesson: Data 101
Jim Bruner | Mezzacello

Welcome to the Lesson: Data 101. This is about why we collect data, why and how we use it, and how it can make life easier. First let’s discuss what data is.

It’s important for kids to see what makes data and communication as well as rigor and teamwork so important in any environment.


What is Data:

First let’s talk about data and types of data. We might think data is just information, but there is more to it than that. At Mezzacello there are four essential types of data that we are concerned with:

  1. Collected Data like on a form or a spreadsheet
  2. Reaction Data like a blog post or journal entry
  3. Sensor Data like you get from apps and reports
  4. Label Data that you use to find things or determine contents

All of these types of data are important. They allow others to learn from you and more importantly, they allow others to recreate what you did. In science, data is king and you have to be prepared for it.

Anecdotal and Empirical Data

The problem when we do not record data arises when we share data with others. If we do not document it, the data quickly becomes like a form of the game telephone. You tell one person one thing and they HEAR something else or ADD something else and the original data is corrupted.

If you didn’t document it; It didn’t happen

Dr. Andrew Bruening

This is the problem with ANECDOTAL or story-based data. It just is not reliable or continually repeatable. But Empirical is a commitment to truth and accuracy.

Empirical Data and Reaction Data

So now you do that empirical data is recorded at the time it was observed and accurately recorded so it can be used reliably and tested and replicated. Reaction Data (also sometimes called Testimonials) is also useful, because a person is recording their observation and feeling in a rigorous way. You may be thinking, how is this any different from anecdotal data?

Anecdotal data (anecdotal is derived from the Greek words, anekdota  and means, “things unpublished”) is not verifiable, whereas a recorded testimony IS. So while reaction data is useful if it is recorded well, it is referred to as “opaque” (unclear) because it is not easily referenced or paired with digital words or recorded data – unless it is transcribed. So when we transcribe Reaction Data, it becomes Empirical Data.

Sensor Data

Oddly enough, if you do not have a system of automated collection from sensors, then we treat sensor data like anecdotal or reaction data. It isn’t easily used or related to other events as just data. It must be recorded and then it becomes part of a record that can be modeled or charted.

Sensors are not a reliable source of data by themselves. They required an extra step of somebody observing them and making a record of their data. That someone else can be a human or a program; but that last step of matching their readout to a point in time is critical.


Labels are incredibly important on an Urban Farm. Try to think of labels as the data of things or objects. Often on a farm I have to store a material, object or substance in another container. All containers look alike, so it is their label that is going to save the day!

Oh the tyranny of unlabeled containers! I have so many examples were delicate experiments or attempts to identify and solve a problem were foiled by a lack of labeling. Make a note of everything!

The label is an important form of data! All the data you collect in the cloud is useless if the thing you are collecting data about goes unlabeled. Use a marker and some tape, or attach a tag to everything!

A Note on Communication

Communicating data is just as critical as recording and analyzing that data. Here at Mezzacello we use two forms of clarifying ways of communicating data; Alphanumeric and Metric. Both of these are useful for two vastly different reasons.

Alphanumeric Data

This is what police, military, pilots and astronauts use to communicate clearly over radios. English is a wacky language where so many letters sound a like: B,C,D,G,P,T,V,Z all contain “EEE” as their ending sound. On a radio, if the first part of the letter is cut off, one has to guess what the letter is.

Here is a Handy Guide on Alphanumeric letters and numbers:

A = Alpha
B = Bravo
C = Charlie
D = Delta
E = Echo
F = Foxtrot
G = Golf
H = Hotel
I = India
J = Juliet
K = Kilo
L = Lima
M = Mike
N = November
O = Oscar
P = Papa
Q = Quebec
R – Romeo
S = Sierra
T = Tango
U = Uniform
V = Victor
W = Whiskey
X = X-Ray
Y = Yankee
Z = Zulu

1 = One
2 = Two
3 = Tree
4 = Four
5 = Fife
6 = Six
7 = Seven
8 = Ate
9 = Niner
0 = Zero

So Why Metric?

This may come as a complete surprise to you, but the United States is the only country in the world capable of going into space, building Fusion Reactors, and Rockets that DOES NOT use the metric system.

You should be amazed by this. That means in science where data and results are shared around the world, all data MUST be in metric. Otherwise you are asking the rest of the world to convert their world into English Imperial Measure (a system that even stopped using in the 1960s!)

Make life easier for everyone. Use the following measures for volume, scale, mass and distance:

ml = Mililiter
L = Liter
Kl = Kiloliter

g = Gram
Mg = Miligram
Kg = Kilogram

mm = Milimeter
Cm = Centimeter
M = Meter
Km = Kilometer

C = Celsius

J = Joules
Kj = Kilojoules
W = Watts
A = Amps
V = Volts

You will. notice that in Alphanumeric notation, it is almost impossible to confuse one letter for another, even if the radio cuts out. You might also notice that the numbers are switched up a little. This is because none of the alphanumeric letters of numbers ends on a soft sound, they are all hard sounds.

The deal with Words and Numbers: You can say a word or compound number on a radio. But to be sure you are understood you should always follow that word or number with the letters AND numbers individually. Try this exercise:

Hello! My name is Jim and I weigh 62 Kilograms and I am 1.79 meters tall.
Hello! My name is Jim (Juliet, India, Mike) –
weight: six-two Kilograms, height: one-point-seven-niner meters.

Do this with yourself right now. once you start getting used to being fully understood it gets a lot easier. There are metric conversion charts all over Mezzacello, and all sensors are set to metric outputs. Remember, I share this data with the entire world, not just you or the people in Ohio, or the United States.

Radio Etiquette

At Mezzacello a lot of the data that will have to be recorded via remote observers using walkie-talkie radios. These are fun to use and easy, but we have them for good reasons. Mezzacello is almost half a hectare in area. These radios allow data to come into the central data hub remotely and accurately.

We need to practice good radio etiquette. There are six simple rules to radio etiquette. If a user is found to be in violation of that etiquette there will be consequences.

  1. Press to Talk, Release to listen
  2. Always start with a call sign that you will be given
  3. After requesting the attention of who you are calling, say over and stop talking
  4. When responding in the affirmative, say roger, not “yes” or say negative, not “no”
  5. When you are done relating information, state your call sign and say “out”
  6. Never interrupt an ongoing data transfer, be polite and patient.


  • Computer
  • Display
  • Wifi
  • Walkie-Talkies (at least two)
  • Paper
  • Pencil


  1. Group students together into teams or use the teams that are already in place.
  2. Ask the students to consider what data they will be conveying, and how they will record it.
  3. At Mezzacello, there are numerous sensors and data sets they can refer to; The easiest is weather data from the bioreactor.
  4. When they have an idea of what data they will collect and they have made their choice give them the radios.
  5. Have one student step outside the lab to be either the recorder or the receiver; They MUST have decided this ahead of time!
  6. Have the students carefully start transmitting or receiving data and recording it on paper at first.
  7. Have another student start inputting data into the appropriate data set online.
  8. Try to mix it up a bit here. have some students recording weather, some recording soil or water stats, and another set pulling data from a cloud data set.
  9. Give them 15 minutes to transmit and receive data and practice alphanumerics and radio etiquette.
  10. Pull the teams back together and look at the data in the Data 101 Data set that they just recorded.
  11. How accurate were they? Were they efficient? Easily flustered or pushy?
  12. Discuss a scenario where lives might be in danger or opportunity could be lost if they lose their cool and do not record or transmit accurate data.
  13. Take a quick survey by show of hands who liked collecting data and transmitting it and who liked receiving and recording.
  14. Archive that dataset.

Learning Integration

This is a core lesson for a reason. The ability to show patience, resolve, teamwork, empathy, and discipline is a VERY important part of being a good scientist or researcher. We want kids to see at the start what makes data and communication as well as rigor and teamwork so important in any environment.

Now that the students understand that data is also a language skill, we can focus on getting them to organically adopt good communication skills and attitudes. This is really important in developing a STEM Identity and in moving forward as a STEM professional.

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