Birds of a Feather: Citizen-Science and Data Analysis

Do you need an innovative way to engage students in data collection and analysis? Or maybe you’d like to teach life science concepts in a more authentic context. Whether you are a science teacher, a math teacher, or both, you may want to consider a citizen-science project from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Focusing on bird observation, the projects provide important information about species distribution and behavior to ornithologists. However, much of the data is also accessible online – providing opportunities for students to analyze and conduct inquiry-based projects.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology sponsors many different citizen-science projects. We’ve highlighted four that might be most appropriate for middle school participation. You can learn more about all the projects at the CLO web site.

eBird
http://ebird.org/content/birdsleuth/
Participants record information about bird observations. The database is used by scientists, conservationists, and birdwatchers who want to know more about the distributions and movement patterns of birds across the continent.

Celebrate UrbanBirds
http://www.birds.cornell.edu/celebration
Participants learn about 16 species of urban birds, select a birdwatching area, and observe for 10 minutes, recording which species they see. Scientists use the data to study bird populations, behavior, and their interaction with the urban habitat. Celebrate Urban Birds also includes ideas and resources for urban greening activities.

Project PigeonWatch
http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pigeonwatch
Participants observe pigeons and record data about flock numbers, color, and mating behavior. The data is used by scientists to better understand why pigeons continue to exist in so many colors and which colors are preferred for mates. This project does not currently have online data entry available. Printable data forms can be completed and returned to the Lab.

Project NestWatch
http://watch.birds.cornell.edu/nest/home/index
Participants monitor nests and breeding habits of any bird species.

A series of BirdSleuth curriculum modules are available for purchase and can help teachers integrate the projects into their classrooms. However, these modules are not necessary for participation in any of the citizen-science projects.

Science and mathematics are seamlessly integrated in these projects. Participating in bird observation allows middle school students to learn these concepts in an authentic setting:

Life Science

·         Diversity and Adaptations of organisms
·         Populations and Ecosystems
·         Bird behavior

Mathematics

·         Data collection
·         Data analysis – graphing, statistics (range, mean, median, mode)

The citizen-science projects from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology can target the Life Science Content Standard of the National Science Education Standards. Bird observations may also lead to student-directed inquiry, which align with the Science as Inquiry Content Standard. Students also work on the NCTM Data Analysis and Probability Standard as well as the NCTM Connections Standard as they apply mathematics outside of a school context.

Best of all, these projects can be completed anytime, anywhere. Get your students outdoors and observing birds today!


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 11/28/2011.

Let’s Talk Teaching: Games in Math Class

In my years of teaching grades 6 through 8, I generally used games only for reviewing before a test. What I didn’t realize was how effective games can be for teaching the content. Each of the games below has a learning objective; each could be embedded in a lesson plan for middle school math. And, as you know, games focus students’ attention as few other teaching strategies can. Use our comment box below to share with other teachers the games you use in class!

Polygon Capture
This excellent lesson uses a game to stimulate conversation about the properties of polygons. A player draws two cards, one about the sides of a polygon, such as “All sides are equal,” and one about the angles, such as “Two angles are acute.” The player then captures all the polygons on the table that fit both of the properties. Provided here are handouts of the game cards, the polygons, and the rules of the game.

Maze Game
This online activity allows the player to practice their point plotting skills by having them move a robot through a mine field to a target location.  Great for learning to visualize coordinates on the Cartesian plane!

The Factor Game
In this two-player game, one person circles a number from 1 to 30 on a game board. The second person circles (in a different color) all the proper factors of that number. When no numbers remain with uncircled factors, the person with the largest total wins. A lesson plan outlines how to help students analyze the best first move in the game, which leads to class discussion of primes and squares as well as abundant and deficient numbers.

Data Picking
In this interactive game, students first create a table using data they collect from the onscreen characters. They then select a scatter plot, a histogram, a line graph, or a pie chart that best represents the data. The amount of data increases and the type of data representation changes according to which of three levels of difficulty is selected.

Fraction Track
Working in two-player competition or individually students practice finding equivalent fractions and ways of combining fractions as they move their pieces across the board. Both sites use applets, but the basic game play can be set up using only paper game boards and chips.


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 11/10/2011.

Give Us Our Daily Math

Middle schoolers may not easily see the connection between data analysis problems invented for the classroom and math problems encountered in their daily lives. You will spark their interest in data analysis by showing them its value in finding solutions to real problems in many settings — from buying a soda to taking after-school jobs to understanding weather reports. When you introduce data analysis to middle school students, you are exposing them to applications that correlate with the NCTM Principles and Standards: creating and reading graphs, calculating statistics, and, above all, solving real-world problems.

Working Hours: How Much Time Do Teens Spend on the Job?
This activity challenges students to interpret a bar graph to determine the average number of hours teenagers work per week. A hint suggests that students assume that 100 students participated in the survey. Interesting statistics about the hourly wages and annual salaries of various occupations are given.

Does It Make a Difference Where You Shop?
In this online activity, your students compare soda prices from two stores using data displayed on a scatterplot graph. Students are shown how the line y = x can be used to analyze the data and draw a conclusion. Further problems involving scatterplots compare car mileage and the performance of NBA players.

The Global Sun Temperature Project
This web site allows students from around the world to work together to determine how average daily temperatures and hours of sunlight change with distance from the equator. Students can participate in the project each spring, April-June. You will find project information, lesson plans, and implementation assistance.

New York Times Daily Lesson Plan: Mathematics
These lesson ideas from the New York Times offer suggestions for ways to draw on real-world issues and statistics to develop lessons in mathematics. Each lesson idea includes a description of the activities along with handouts and questions for discussion. Links to related Times articles provide an interactive aspect to each of the lesson entries.

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/07/2012.

Graphs: An Algebra Basic

Algebra can be hard to visualize. Learning to show relationships between symbolic expressions and their graphs opens an avenue to really seeing algebraic patterns. According to the NCTM Standards, at the middle school students move from plotting points to exploring the graphs of lines, including slope and intercept.

An Introduction to the Coordinate Plane
This is a fun but serious introduction to Cartesian coordinates. Students work interactively online to plot points of integer pairs, to deal with changing the scale of a graph, and to consider “tricky” graphs.

Coordinate Graphing
Another site on the basics of coordinate graphing with opportunities to practice plotting points. This is actually a complete lesson on the subject—introduction, objectives, procedures, and extensions—plus excellent interactive games for students to practice their point-plotting skills.

Lines and Slope
At this site, students learn to draw a line and find its slope. Joan, a cartoon chameleon, is used throughout the tutorial to demonstrate the idea of slope visually. Background information on solving equations and graphing points is laid out clearly, followed by a step-by-step explanation of how to calculate slope using the formula. Students also observe the slope of horizontal, vertical, parallel, and perpendicular lines, not a usual topic at a beginning level. Finally, the slope-intercept form (y = mx + b) is carefully set out.

Grapher: Algebra (Grades 6-8)
Using this online manipulative, students can graph functions of their choice—including functions with square roots, exponents, and fractions. In fact, they can graph up to three functions in the same window, a useful capability when considering points of intersection. Also, they can zoom in on a region of the graph and trace the function paths to find particular coordinates. A powerful tool for exploring graphs!


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 11/08/2011.

Graphing Statistics

Graphs are part of the language of newspapers, of political discussion, of science and business. Our students need to be able to read and write in this language if they are to sort out the meaning of the barrage of numbers that hits them in daily life. As stated in the NCTM Standards, middle grades students should be able to “select, create, and use appropriate graphical representations of data.” Here are resources that provide opportunities to use graphs in presenting interesting data.

Do Women Live Longer Than Men?
This activity opens with a graph that depicts the life expectancies of men and women born in the United States.

Soda: Does It Make a Difference Where You Shop?
This activity offers students a chance to compare soda prices from two stores using data displayed on a scatterplot.

Working Hours: How Much Time Do Teens Spend on the Job?
Students must interpret a bar graph to determine the average number of hours teenagers work per week.

Interactivate Activities
Java applets on this site allow students to create graphs that handle examples of real-world data. Choose the heading “Statistics” and find a variety of graphs, including stem-and-leaf plot, circle, histogram, double-bar, and box plot.

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/07/2012.