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Distance Learning

G6+ STEAM lesson using real data from a birdsong study

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Matt Wilkins, PhD Matthew Wilkins 10 Points

This lesson (connected to 10 NGSS standards--see below) has a remote version using Nearpod to allow student- or teacher-paced (live) deployment. 

This is a lesson I've been working on all summer based on my in-press paper on neglected female singing in barn swallows. I would LOVE your feedback!


Students dive in with a data literacy puzzle, which we call a “Nearly Impossible Task.” Students are given a figure from a current scientific study on barn swallows (a common bird across the world), but with text elements enciphered with an alphabetic shift (e.g. A->Z, B->Y). They have to work in teams (or individually) to decipher the messages, and then try to understand the figure. This is a high-level data literacy task that piques students’ natural problem-solving affinities while working on GRIT/grappling and the 4Cs. After a group debrief about challenges overcome and hypotheses for the figure’s meaning, the teacher reveals the study with a video. In Stages II and III, students create and interpret histograms from the same data, allowing for a deeper understanding of the pros and cons of scatter plots and histograms for visualizing data patterns. The culminating task is for students to synthesize the conclusions from the two figures with presented facts to hypothesize a reason for why female song has been missed until 2020 in this widely studied species. 

Learning Targets (I Can):

  • Solve an alphabetic shift cipher
  • Learn and use new vocabulary
  • Interpret a scatter plot
  • Create a histogram from raw data
  • Compare and contrast scatter plots and histograms
  • Persevere, even when a task seems too hard

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Next Generation Science Standards: 

DATA-M1: Construct, analyze, and/or interpret graphical displays of data and/or large data sets to identify linear and nonlinear relationships.
DATA-M2: Use graphical displays (e.g., maps, charts, graphs, and/or tables) of large data sets to identify temporal and spatial relationships.
MATH-M3: Create algorithms (a series of ordered steps) to solve a problem.
ARG-M3: Construct, use, and/or present an oral and written argument supported by empirical evidence and scientific reasoning to support or refute an explanation or a model for a phenomenon or a solution to a problem.
INFO-M1: Critically read scientific texts adapted for classroom use to determine the central ideas and/or obtain scientific and/or technical information to describe patterns in and/or evidence about the natural and designed world(s).
INFO-M2: Integrate qualitative and/or quantitative scientific and/or technical information in written text with that contained in media and visual displays to clarify claims and findings.
LS1.B-M2: Animals engage in characteristic behaviors that increase the odds of reproduction.
PAT-M2: Patterns in rates of change and other numerical relationships can provide information about natural systems.
PAT-M4: Graphs, charts, and images can be used to identify patterns in data.
SC-M1: Explanations of stability and change in natural or designed systems can be constructed by examining the changes over time and processes at different scales, including the atomic scale.

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