The Tragedy of the Commons part 3: Data Analysis and Reflection

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Big Idea

In this 3rd part of the Tragedy of the Commons lesson sequence, students organize, graph, and analyze data to compare and contrast the economic and environmental conditions present in their regulated and unregulated fishing simulations.


In this lesson, students take the data that was generated in the two previous lessons, part 1  (unregulated fishing) and part 2 (regulated fishing) and analyze the data in an attempt to understand patterns and the effects of the different strategies employed.

Since making a graph is such a large part of this lesson, I usually precede it with the Skill Builder lesson, “How to Make a Graph”.  If the majority of your students are already proficient in making a simple graph, then you can dive right into this lesson without the primer.  

This lesson doesn’t require much in the way of direct instruction, so prepare yourself to mainly be available as a resource to your students that need assistance.  It could be possible to have the individual debrief portion of this lesson be a homework assignment, but I find I get more thoughtful responses to questions and better work overall if I am available to dialogue with individual students and groups and push them to delve deeper into their data sets to understand the implications of the previous days’ simulations.  


Connection to Standard:

In this lesson, students follow a multistep procedure to organize and analyze the data they collected in the previous lessons and then provide specific evidence to support their claims.


Warm Up

10 minutes

To begin this lesson, I distribute the International Fishing Commission Reports and Laws and Regulations worksheets from the previous days.  I collect these ahead of time rather than have students take them home so that all groups will have access to their data in case the student with the data is absent.

We then quickly review the ways a graph can be a valuable tool for scientists in that it is a way to visualize numerical data such that the “data tells a story”.  I often remind them that “a picture is worth a thousand words”, so they should have no problem writing a few paragraphs about the picture they create.       

I then distribute the Individual Debrief worksheet and a sheet of graph paper to each student.

The Individual Debrief

25 minutes

I first explain to students that there are several potential graphs that could be made from the data they collected and point out that some have been described on their Individual Debrief worksheet.  I explain to students that to get a more complete analysis of the data generated in our simulations, each member of a group must make a different graph.  

This requirement is both practical (students making different graphs can't copy each other) and academic (i.e., since there were so many different types of data collected, comparing different kinds of data such as economic growth or change in biodiversity can yield very different interpretations of what happened in the simulation).

Since not every member of a group may be as comfortable with producing and interpreting graphs, I do announce to the whole class that some graphs may be easier to complete than others (e.g., “fish populations”), but also try and "set the bar high" by also challenging students that do feel comfortable making graphs to try and make the more difficult graphs that include multiple variables and/or data from both simulations (e.g., “Fish Populations vs. Economy”). 

Although the data collected during the simulations is available to all members on paper, I encourage students with cameras to take a picture of the data they will need to complete their graphs so they don’t have to spend any down time waiting for another student to surrender the data sheets.   

Once the worksheets and graph paper have been distributed, I walk from group to group to make sure that the students in a group have each selected a unique graph to produce.  I usually ask them to circle the name of the graph they are working on to avoid any confusion.  Even with the “How to Make a Graph” primer lesson, students tend to have a lot of questions so I just try and make myself constantly available if any one student has specific questions.  If no students have urgent questions, I check students’ progress to make sure the graphs are following my basic guidelines and are set up according to the requirements of the assignment.  

Following completion of their graphs, students should begin working on the questions that follow on the individual debrief form.  I make myself available to students with specific questions regarding these sheets, and if necessary, push them to reference the data as evidence for any claim they make.  

The Group Debrief

25 minutes

After about a half hour of working on their graphs and questions from the individual debrief worksheet, I announce to the class that they will now be required to bring their perspectives from looking at a portion of the data to their entire group.  I then distribute the group debrief worksheet and let them know that, in addition to a separate sheet of paper with their answers, they will also attach their Laws and Regulations and International fishing Commission Report worksheets from both days of the simulation.  

The hope here is that asking the group as a whole to debrief the results of the simulations will generate discussions and insights that will allow the individual students to complete their individual portions more thoughtfully when they return to their individual work.

Please note that one of the questions on the group debrief requires student groups to compare their results with another group, this will increase the amount of movement and activity in the classroom, so I find it useful to be “in the mix”, walking around to groups to make sure these “business trips” stay on task and don’t turn in to social affairs.  Like the individual debrief portion of this assignment, I make myself available to any groups with urgent questions and, if none arise, I ask groups to share some of their answers in order to push them to think more deeply about the question.  

Wrap Up

5 minutes

When there are about 5 minutes left in class, I let students know that both their individual debrief questions and graphs and the group debrief are due the following day.  I ask them to prepare to discuss the results of their work and encourage any students that need additional time or assistance to see me after school or during homeroom for tutoring.  

Since I teach block periods that usually meet every other day, I always tell students that it will be unacceptable to come to class without their work and tell me, “I don’t get it”.  I let them know if they don’t “get it”, then I will need to hear about it before they come to the next class.