Researcher for a day: What kinds of animals live in the Amazon?

posted by Lindsay Maldonado

By day, I’m a researcher at Shedd Aquarium. I study people though, not animals – but, at Shedd, there are also a lot of people who do study animals. Some of these people are conservation research scientists or aquarists, who use math, and science, to help them learn more about the animals in their care, or animals in the wild. No matter who, or what, your subjects are, collecting data helps researchers collect information (i.e., data) that can provide answers to important research questions. For example, I might want to know how many visitors learned something about how they can help animals after their visit; or a conservation researcher might want to know how many seahorses live in a certain area of the world. So, to get us started, let’s pretend we are research scientists. We have our clipboard loaded up with our data collection sheet, some pencils, and our observation eyes. Now we’re ready to start collecting data!

penguin survey

Data analysis is one of the big ideas of early mathematics and can serve as a foundation for introducing other big ideas like sets, number sense, and counting — and, what better place to apply these ideas than at the aquarium with real living animals.

We have some important research questions to answer, so let’s get back into scientist mode. Today we want to know how many different animals live in the River Channel – and, we’re going to answer this question by observing animals (i.e., gathering data) and documenting what we see (i.e., organizing and describing data). These are all important steps to data analysis! If we want to know what animals live in the River Channel, we first need to make some observations. What do you see? A variety of animals live in the River Channel. How many animals do you see? Can you count them? I see 8 animals.

how many animals

Like the Amazon River, this habitat shows the diversity of animals that live in the river. What kind of animals do you see? I see turtles, stingrays, and fish.

kinds of animalsWe can sort the animals in the River Channel in a number of ways. First, we can sort by the attribute: type of animal. There are fish, turtles, and stingrays. Let’s put these animals on our graph. Representing data, in this way, is an important part of data analysis and allows us to interpret the data we collected.

blank graph

Let’s revisit our research question. We want to know how many types of animals live in the Amazon River. Through observation, we saw that fish, turtles, and stingrays live in the Amazon River so there are three types of animals in the River Channel. But how many of each live there? Let’s use our graph to help us organize our data. How many fish do you see? How many turtles? How many stingrays?

animals on graph

In what other ways can you sort these animals? You can use any number of attributes to sort the animals in this picture. We used the attribute of type (turtles, stingrays, and fish) but you could also sort these animals by size or shape. Observing animals at an aquarium is full of math possibilities. You can use data collection and data representation as the foundation for exploring the big ideas of early math. Keep exploring data analysis in the classroom. Try more data activities here.

Data Analysis and the Young Child

When I hear “data analysis” I immediately think of statistics and then I get the shakes and flashbacks.  I had to take Statistics for Sociology majors when I was at University and it was simply the hardest class I ever took.  I used all of my tried-and-true strategies for school success.  I arrived early.  I sat in the front.  I came prepared.  I took lengthy notes.  I met with my teacher outside of class for extra help.  I studied like crazy.  At the end of it all, I eked out a C by the skin of my teeth.

So, teaching data analysis to young children seems completely contradictory to me.  How do we look at data sets and make sense of it?

Young children need to collect data that is meaningful to them.  This can be in the form of scientific inquiry such as; how many sprinkler days did we have this summer?   or, what is everyone’s favorite kind of juice? The data can then be collected and categorized into data sets.  Usually, we want to explore ideas that yield manageable data sets for young children (2 – 3 sets, ideally).  In the case of favorite juices, children may say orange, apple, grape and possibly one other.

You should tally their responses by using visual cues that can be read by pre-readers. You might draw three glasses on the top of the tag board with one filled with orange, one filled with yellow and one filled with purple.  The colors will visually represent the juice and will make sense to the children.

Under each choice, the children can write their names to represent their choice, or if they are not ready to write, you could put their photos under their choices.  You have now created a usable data set that is analyzed by the children.  The analysis should be readily seen and understood by the children.  You can ask questions of the data, for example; Which juice is the favorite amongst our group?  Which juice is the least favorite?  How many children chose each kind? etc.

Next week we will continue looking at data analysis and the young child.