Analyzing a Turtle Graph from Primary Source

One of the first things I teach AP Biology students is how to analyze data. This is a skill they have been practicing throughout high school, but science data can be challenging. When I have asked former students who graduated what they struggled with in college, many would tell me that they didn’t have enough experience working with primary research.

PLOS One is an open access, peer-reviewed journal where you can find science articles. The title of the research in this activity is “Telomeres, Age and Reproduction in Long Lived Reptiles.” The graph for the research is relatively simple, showing reproductive output as one bar and telomere length as another bar. One group of turtles has a migration pattern of two years (short) and the other has 3 years (long.) The author does include error bars on the graph, though I don’t discuss them in this activity. Check out CER and Data Analysis for a graphing exercise that has error bars.

Students examine the graph and answer questions about the X and Y axis, and what the graph is showing. I also teach students the I2 strategy for annotating graphs. The Google Doc includes a larger version of the graph to either display on a projector or print larger for annotations. (Tip: laminate graph and use erasable markers for annotations.)

How I Use this Activity

  1. I start with either showing the graph on the overhead or giving students the handout. Students work together to answer the questions.
  2. The last question asks for a graph summary, which can be challenging. Students work on that in pairs, but I pause the class and we share our thoughts. Students can then revise their summary.
  3. Finally, I show students the abstract of the research. Students will get a better understanding of the research topic from the abstract and learn more about the data. I model strategies (close reading) for dealing with a scientific abstract.
  4. If time permits, I may even introduce the concept of aging and telomeres.

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