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.

Graphing Plant Growth

Once your seedlings have started to sprout, it is important that children have a way to measure and document their growth.  If each child has her/his own plant, then they will also need some sort of chart where they can record their observations over time. Click her( Inchworm chart )to see a sample of a chart I made for this activity.  You can see that I included a small space so children can also draw a picture of the current state of their plant.  For some, this may be more interesting than measuring the plants.You can also take a picture of the plants each week

Since there is little observable growth over a 24 hour period, you may want to choose one day of the week as “Measurement Day”.  That way  the growth will be enough to see.  On Monday, I wrote about the Inchworm manipulatives.  These are the perfect tool to use when measuring the plants.inchworm measure Children can hold one inchworm up next to the stem to see if it is one inch tall.  If the stem is longer, they can add another inchworm until the length of their Inchworm chain  is the same size as their plant height.  They can then count their inchworms and record their findings.  I wouldn’t worry too much about fractions of inches- rounding up to the nearest inch is perfectly OK for preschool-aged children.  You can even use language like, “Your plant is about 3 inches tall,” so that children get the idea that it is not exact.

This is one of those activities that becomes more interesting over time- so be patient.  As the children’s plants grow, so will their interest in measuring them.

Math Binders

Lots of programs have children working with journals to document their learning around words and language.  Have you ever considered creating math binders for the  children? I would use 3-ringed binders with pockets so the children can keep all of their “math” work together in once place.  These would be terrific to use when it is time to meet with parents so they can see their children’s progress not only in language and literacy but in math as well.