Reflection: Vertical Alignment Using Protists as a Model of Succession (Part 3/3) - Section 3: Looking at Student Logs

 

Students excel at the compartmentalization of knowledge. They have a difficult time transferring what they learn in math class to science class. This is not a good thing. The math teacher at my high school and I noticed that our students had this problem so we vertically aligned my biology curriculum with the math standards that deal with statistics. Throughout the year, students conduct several short term studies in which they collect enough data to perform a statistical analysis. Therefore, they could see how theoretical mathematics is applied to better understand natural phenomena. This is the second study in which we apply statistics and statistical methods.  (Note: The first lesson is in the virus unit in which we sort large amounts of data and look for patterns. If you would like to view this lesson, it is Understanding Genetic Drift.)

In today's lesson, I demonstrate to my students the process that scientists use to organize and make sense of their data. By first having them look at their student logs, they are able to notice any changes that are seen in their hay infusions. Further probing questions allow my students to realize that they cannot possibly determine what is happening in their hay infusions using only qualitative observational data. Through the discussion, they realize that they need to sort their data and use some mathematical tools to determine patterns. I ask them if they have any tools in their math "toolbox" that might help them. Invariably, some students suggest we calculate the mean. I encourage them to take their analysis a step further by using additional descriptive statistic algorithms (i.e. standard deviation, range, etc). 

Throughout this lesson, students use computerized mathematical tools (i.e. spreadsheets and LoggerPro) in the sorting and organization of their data. I do this for two reasons. We have a limited amount of time to complete this exercise before we must move to the next task which is analyzing and explaining the patterns seen in the data. It is more important that students interpret their data in light of what they know about succession. I would rather have students understand what changes have occurred to the protist populations over time and due to the different treatment. They are learning to correctly compute these statistical algorithms in their math class. Too many times students get bogged down in getting the right answers because of incorrect computation and they never get to analyze and explain their data. Therefore, in this lesson, I just ensure that the data is being inputed properly and then we can evaluate if the numbers make sense in light of our qualitative observational data.  

Once students have determine the descriptive statistics for the animal-like, plant-like, and fungus-like protists in their treatments, then I have them determine the line of best fit. Again, we use a computer program to help them. Students have many choices from which to select. I encourage them to select the simplest function that best shows the patterns in the data. In this study, that is typically not a line.  Students are surprised by this. This is because they incorrectly assume that a line of best fit is always a linear function. However, when we explain what the graph means in light of their observational data, they come to realize that the function cannot possibly be a linear function. Finally, students explain what has occurred in light of the descriptive statistics and the graph they generated.  

By observing this process, students gain a richer understanding of the importance of statistical methods. Later in the year, we add another computational tool, the student t-test. This chunking is very important because it keeps students that struggle with math from being overwhelmed. 

  Using Statistics in the Science Classroom
  Vertical Alignment: Using Statistics in the Science Classroom
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Using Protists as a Model of Succession (Part 3/3)

Unit 4: Protists
Lesson 10 of 11

Objective: Students will explain how succession occurs in an ecosystem by noting the changes in a hay infusion over a period of time.

Big Idea: By using protists as model organisms, we can shorten period of time succession occurs so we can observe changes in an ecosystem.

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Subject(s):
carrying capacity, Science, Engaging in argument from evidence , Using mathematics and computational thinking , stability and change, Protists, Ecosystem Dynamics, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Scale, proportion, and quantity
  69 minutes
paramecium caudatum ehrenberg  1833
 
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