Using NEON Data and Educational Materials in Your Classroom | LDC 2017

October 21, 2017
Life Discovery – Doing Science Education Conference

Data discovery is a crucial step to bolstering lessons with data and for students to be comfortable asking questions using data. The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) collects data at 81 sites across the United States and freely provides this data that can be used to ask questions about the impacts of climate change, land-use change, and invasive species on natural resources and biodiversity. Participants in this workshop will explore how to directly access the full NEON database to get the data they want for use in the classroom. Participants will also explore already curated teaching data subsets that are available for download and classroom use. 

The learning objectives of the workshop are for educators to have the tools and comfort level to discover and access data from the NEON database (, to be aware of the increasing number of data visualization tools that NEON will be offering through their website (, and to be able to use the curated teaching data subsets with or without the associated activities in their own educational setting. 

The workshop will be presented as a guided navigation through the resources available, therefore, workshop participants should bring a laptop or tablet (phones are not ideal) to be able to participate fully in the workshop. The workshop instructors will model how educators can present the data discovery tools in their own classrooms. Each participant will have the opportunity to leave the workshop with a downloaded data set that they may use for a classroom lesson.


All participants in this workhsop must be registered for the 2017 Life Discovery – Doing Science Education Conference and have selected this workshop during registration.  

Required Prior Knowledge

None. This workshop is open to all participants. 

Things You’ll Need For The Workshop

To fully participant in this workshop, we recommend you bring a laptop to the workshop with you. 

Workshop Instructors

Please get in touch with the instructors prior to the workshop with any questions.


Location: Thurman J. White Forum Building, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK

Time Topic
11:00 Begin workshop
Accessing NEON Data
Implementing NEON Educational Resources
12:30 End workshop

Access NEON Data 

The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) is a continental-scale ecological observation facility, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and operated by Battelle, that gathers and synthesizes data on the impacts of climate change, land use change and invasive species on natural resources and biodiversity. NEON data and resources are freely available to enable users to tackle scientific questions at scales not accessible to previous generations of ecologists and to train the future generation of scientists, land managers, and policy makers.

NEON is designed to collect high-quality, standardized data from 81 field sites (terrestrial & aquatic) across the U.S. (including Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico). Data collection methods are standardized across sites and include in situ instrument measurements, field sampling and airborne remote sensing. Field sites are strategically located to represent different regions of vegetation, landforms, climate, and ecosystem performance. 

All NEON data will be accessible through the NEON Data Portal:

Discover Data

The best method for discovering NEON data on the portal, depends a bit on what information you are starting with.  

  • Field Site Map – the field site map on the website links directly to the data search for this site.  It can be a great way to start your data discovery process and to understand the spatial layout of each site.
  • Data Product Catalog – this is a great way to start if you are figuring out what data product or site are right for you.  
  • Data Availability Matrix – this is a great way to start if you are wondering what products are available from what sites right now. 
  • Search Map – this is a great way to start if you are particularly interested in looking for known data products at specific sites. 

Obtain Data

You can access the data directly through the portal or you can access the data programmatically through an API.  

  • Data Portal Download – you can download data directly from the portal.  Data will be delivered in zipped files. NEON data is delivered in several formats including .csv and HDF5 (Tutorial: What is HDF5?). 
  • API – The NEON API allows you to directly access data through a programatic method. For instructors focusing on reproducible research methods. 
  • Curated NEON Data Skills Teaching Data Subsets – Subsets of data that are used in NEON Data Skills materials are available for download on the NEON Data Skills page on FigShare

NEON data are provided in files or sets of files for each site by month.  As a result, if you or your students are working with data from more than one site or month, you must "stack" the data.  This can be done manually, with an R script, or with a Python script. We have a short tutorial on how to use the NEON data StackR script

Resources for Working With NEON Data 

Resources for working with NEON data products are constantly being developed.  Many of the research focused resources are code based and may be appropriate to use in some advanced classes.

  • NEON Metadata – NEON provides full documentation of all the data collection and processing methods use for the documents.  Many essential metadata docuements come in the data download packet, others are available in the Data Documentation library.  
  • NEONScience GitHub Organization  – Scripts and packages developed by scientists working on the NEON project will be hosted here. 
  • Development of data visualization tools is occuring and will be available through when available. 

Implement NEON Educational Resources

A variety of educational resources are offered through 

Teaching Modules 

For educators, NEON provides Teaching Modules that include lesson outlines, curated datasets, and data skills activities to teach essential ecological concepts with accompanying data skills.  Teaching modules are cross-listed on QUBES Hub. We welcome inquires from instructors interested in using NEON data in their own classrooms. 

Data Tutorials

Looking to improve your data skills using specific tools like R or Python? Want to learn more about working with a specific NEON data product? NEON develops online tutorials to help you improve your research. These self-paced tutorials are designed for you to used as standalone help on a single topic or as a series to learn new techniques. 

Science Videos

Short animated science explain key concepts or techniques – from measuring photosynthesis to how lidar works – in an engaging and accurate manner. All science videos are available on the NEONScience YouTube channel. Other videos on the channel provide more detailed information on using NEON data products.  

Faculty Mentoring Networks

NEON partners with QUBES to facillitate Faculty Mentoring Networks (FMN) focused on teaching with NEON data.  Become a NEON Data Education Fellow in Spring 2018! Applications are now open for a FMN focused on implementing exisiting NEON Data Skills resources in the classoom. 


Use activities created by other organizations to provide you students with opportunities to work on data similar to that collected by NEON. 

Leave a comment

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Find more workshops
Table of Contents
Workshop Materials
Dialog content.