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Big Data and Health Science

The Big Data and Health Science lessons engage students in investigating how data (small data sets and “big data”) is used to study the effectiveness of calcium dietary supplements in preventing osteoporosis.  Hands-on lesson components are easy to prepare and can be done with inexpensive supplies.  

Resources for each lesson include:

  • A teacher guide with an answer key and information on how to prepare for the lesson  
  • Student handouts


These lessons were developed with funding from Science Education Partnership Award R25OD010494-03S1 from the National Institutes of Health.


A Case of Osteoporosis    

This is an introductory lesson that uses models, information cards, and a poster to explore associations among osteoporosis, bone density, and bone fracture risk. 

A Case of Osteoporosis Teacher Guide
A Case of Osteoporosis Student Guide

Large Research Studies    

Test the claim that taking calcium supplements increases bone density.  Learn about the importance of large sample size in traditional research studies.  Analyze data from a large-scale health study and a meta-analysis study that combines data from smaller studies.   

Large Research Studies Teacher Guide
Large Research Studies Student Guide

Big Data: A Different Kind of Science    

Use brief stories to explore how big data science is different from traditional scientific research.  Use information from four stories to answer questions about big data in health science. 

Big Data: A Different Kind of Science Teacher Guide
Big Data: A Different Kind of Science Student Guide

Bone Fracture Risk and Big Data    

Conduct (simulated) medical tests and analyze the results to determine if the data could be used to predict a woman’s risk for bone fractures when she gets older.  Explore the advantages of analyzing big data sets that include a large sample size and many different variables.  

Bone Fracture Risk and Big Data Teacher Guide
Bone Fracture Risk and Big Data Student Guide

Collecting Big Data   

What are some possible sources of information for big data sets?  Brainstorm the kinds of information available from electronic sources such as health records, computer files, phones, and wearable wellness devices.  

Collecting Big Data Teacher Guide
Collecting Big Data Student Guide

Mining Big Data: Osteoporosis        

How do factors such as UV light, exercise, caffeine, or sleep affect teens’ risks for developing osteoporosis later in life?  “Mine” variables in a big data set by selecting relevant variables for these factors. 

Mining Big Data: Osteoporosis Teacher Guide
Mining Big Data: Osteoporosis Student Guide

Big Data and Human Health

“Surf the web” to find interesting ways that big data is being used to solve human health problems or to improve healthcare.

Big Data and Human Health Teacher Guide
Big Data and Human Health Student Guide