The Animal Behaviour Society, an international non-profit scientific society that encourages and promotes the professional study of animal behavior.
Students will learn how data visuals tell a story. They will analyze real bird song data to try to understand why female singing behavior has been overlooked in one of the most common birds in the world. They will also gain a deeper insight into the scientific peer review process.
What is the best way to visualize data?
This lesson focuses a lot on puzzles called ciphers and uses a goofy video showing connections between histograms and dot plots to engage students.
Lesson description, notes or instructions to go before Part 1 of the lesson.
For students who finish early/ want to explore on their own at home, there is a code hidden in the lesson title. Decoding it will require them to gain new tech skills. It also gives them a glimpse at a huge realm of knowledge (binary and hexadecimal encoding of data), though they don’t need to fully understand it to solve the problem.
At the end of the worksheet, students can optionally learn to translate a hexadecimal code into a web address. Hexadecimals (hex) are a system for encoding information in computers. Search for a “hex to text converter.” Translate the Task # on the front page to get a secret web link.
This is a fun “tech-savviness/independence” growth activity. Students are asked to dive into a complex topic (hexadecimal encoding/decoding of text) without much support. But it’s actually not that hard. The goal is to encourage all students to not shut down when something sounds complicated and to learn how to think creatively and use the power of the web to their benefit.
They should do a web search for “hex to text converter”
This lesson allows students to explore the actual data from the study and to hear from the study’s lead author to deepen data literacy and understanding of the scientific method. Students explore one of the primary figures in the study, a scatter plot (graph) showing different patterns of male and female singing output over the breeding season. Importantly, males sang much more than females and for a longer time (May-Aug, rather than just May). Thus, because males sing more frequently, if we assume (as has been common for birders and scientists until recently) that only males sing, your assumptions are reinforced more easily, because you are less likely to see a female sing.
During the peer review process, an anonymous scientist suggested that the scatter plot was not a good way to represent the data, instead suggesting that the authors should have displayed a histogram. In Parts 2 and 3 of the lesson, students aggregate (combine) the authentic study data in order to create a histogram. They must then interpret the data in both formats (deepening their understanding of how histograms and scatter plots relate to each other), and conclude which is a better way to demonstrate the study’s findings, explaining why.
For further reflection, students are then asked to synthesize what they have learned, along with new information presented to them. Why has female song been missed? Partially because of a pre-existing assumption that females don't sing, along with less common singing behavior in females. Why do females sing less? Because natural selection favors females who sing less. Females must sit on eggs for around 2 weeks, leaving them open to predation. If they were to sing as loudly and provocatively as males, they would attract predators which would eat them or their eggs, passing on no genes. Thus, natural selection has likely caused female song to be lost, simplified, or to be produced for short time periods during establishment of the breeding season in many species around the world.
This lesson is based on a recent study that describes female song in barn swallows for the first time. Barn swallows are one of the most common birds in the world and have been the subject of more than 1000 studies, yet published birding field guides and scientific papers have all failed to describe female song or they describe it incorrectly as being the same as male song (females have their own song type). This is an important oversight, because research on male bird song has informed a lot of theory in biology about how populations evolve through mate choice and competition involving vocal communication, and how new species form.
Ignoring the sounds females make may result from inherent biases. Since bird song became an area of scientific study in the 1800s, it was almost exclusively researched by white males in the Northern Hemisphere. Since women have become welcomed into all areas of science, and research institutions have focused more intent study in tropical regions of the world, studies have discovered that female song is the ancestral state (i.e. the ancestor of all living song birds had both singing males and females). Moreover, female song has not been entirely lost in most species. As in the barn swallow, natural selection has favored females that sing less often, and to have more concise songs that are often restricted to the pre-egg-laying part of the breeding season. This drop in female singing after egg-laying is thought to stem from trying not to draw predators to nests. Due to lack of study, the full function of song in competition among females, male mate choice, or other functions is not well understood in most species.
This Galactic Polymath Learning Chart illustrates the areas of knowledge covered. This lesson targets Math, but it helps teach national learning standards in 4 subjects:
Dimension: Measurement, Data, Probability & Statistics
Dimension: Measurement, Data, Probability & Statistics
Dimension: Language, Speaking & Listening
Dimension: Science & Engineering Practices
Please share your thoughts using this form and we will use it to improve this and other future lessons.
This is a fantastic lesson! I love how it combines actual research and allows the students the opportunity for analysis. I also love the fact that the peer review process is included in the explanation for the types of graphs used. This really allows students to see and understand the scientific process in action. Love it!!
Overall Rating: 5/5
Student Engagement: 4/5
Overall Learning: 5/5
Would Recommend to Other Teachers: 5/5
Student Level: Grade 8
–Sarah Huneycutt, Homeschool Teacher in Nashville, TN
I really enjoy this lesson! It is so engaging and fun!
–11th Grader in Nashville, TN
I think it looks like a very interactive lesson and it will hopefully be engaging and interesting to some students. It looks uncomplicated and it gives you all of the resources you will ever need for the lesson. The fact that it shows you how to create graphs and diagrams in the individual powerpoints is a good attribute in my opinion. -11th Grader in Savannah, GA
My biggest takeaway from the lesson was the importance of choosing the right way to display data…I don’t have any negative feedback…I really liked the lesson and appreciated how it was interactive and not just a lecture, like many of my online classes have become.
–11th Grader in Nashville, TN
Matt Wilkins, PhD
“I worked on this lesson for months, adapting my research into what will hopefully be a mind-expanding learning experience for pretty much all students, aged 11 and up! If you enjoy this lesson, please let us know–we want your feedback! This is the first of many, many Galactic Polymath lessons. Feel free to tag me (@mattwilkinsbio) and GP (@galacticPM) on Twitter with your experiences and student questions! And don’t forget to sign up for our mailing list to hear about what’s coming up next!”
Carver Lee, MA (csalt design co.)
Stephanie Castillo (aka Phuture Doctors)
Teachers who trialed earlier versions of the lesson with their children or students
Instructional and subject experts who provided input or validation on content accuracy
This is intended to be taught in a single day. Includes both classroom and a remote version with Nearpod.
Produced by Phuture Doctors, scaffolding student understanding of content
From 1 day into 3 separate class sessions.
Thanks to Sarah Huneycutt (Nashville, TN) for beta testing this with her class and indicating this needed to be broken up.
For G9-12, students make both histograms; younger students make the female histogram in Part 3.
Thanks to Lauryn Benedict (Greeley, CO) for making the suggestion that students create (not just interpret) the histogram, and deepen learning.
Aesthetics streamlined, graphics, new video showing song counting and other changes.
Debut version of the first official Galactic Polymath lesson. Fully differentiated for G5-6, 7-8, 9-12, also with remote versions. Also added Teach-It-In-15 quickview presentations for all 3 days, and a lesson trailer.
Thanks to Bonnie Flint (Dallas, TX) for feedback leading to changes to our final lesson format.
Fixed slides 44-47 in Part 3 remote presentation more intuitive. Added pink coloring to lesson plan time, grade and subject stats.
Thanks to Emily Hudson (Nashville, TN) for suggestions.
First version with a full complement of in-person classroom versions of presentations and handouts. Fixed problem with Part 3 warm-up. The descriptions of the solution were backwards (i.e. the cipher is -3 encipher, +3 decipher, not the opposite).
Also updated links in acknowledgments
-Changed driving question from "Why has female barn swallow song been ignored or missed by scientists and bird watchers until 2020?" to "What is the best way to visualize data?"