Teaching Statistics and Math Using Spreadsheet Tutorials and Galapágos Finches

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This playlist can be used to teach several core concepts in math and statistics using standard spreadsheet software, such as Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, and actual research on Galapágos finches. The topics covered include mathematical formulae and functions, averages, standard deviation, error bars, standard error of the mean, and t-tests. The series of activities in the playlist allow students to practice spreadsheet and statistical techniques commonly used in scientific research, while exploring the effect of natural selection on morphological traits using quantitative evidence. The activities provide many opportunities for students to engage in data analysis and graphing, including making bar graphs and histograms.
 
By completing the resources in this playlist, students will be able to:

  • Use standard spreadsheet software to organize data and perform calculations.
  • Calculate descriptive measures of variability including range, sum of squares, variance, and standard deviation.
  • Calculate standard error of the mean and confidence intervals, and use these calculations to add and interpret error bars.
  • Statistically compare sample data from two populations by performing t-tests.
  • Create and interpret bar graphs and histograms.

This playlist can be used in AP/IB Biology and undergraduate college courses. Implementing this playlist should take about four 50-minute class periods.

Spreadsheet Tutorial 1: Formulae, Functions, and Averages
Topic
Evolution
Science Practices
Resource Type
Activities

This tutorial introduces the fundamentals of how to use spreadsheets, including organizing data and performing simple calculations, such as calculating the mean and median. Students apply what they learn to real data on Galapágos finches.

Students can complete the first eight tabs as homework, then review and complete the final tab (“Exercise”) in class.

Estimated Time: Half of a 50-minute class period.

Spreadsheet Tutorial 2: Autofill Data, Cell References, and Standard Deviation
Topic
Evolution
Science Practices
Resource Type
Activities

This tutorial explores more spreadsheet functions that are useful for working with data, including automatically filling cells and calculating measures of variability, such as variance and standard deviation. Students apply what they learn by performing more calculations with the finch data. 

Students can complete the first six tabs as homework, then review and complete the final tab (“Exercise”) in class.

Estimated Time: One 50-minute class period.

Spreadsheet Tutorial 3: Column Graphs, Error Bars, and Standard Error of the Mean
Topic
Evolution
Science Practices
Resource Type
Activities

This tutorial explores how to create bar graphs in a spreadsheet. It also shows how to add error bars based on the standard error of the mean and confidence intervals. Students apply what they learn by plotting beak size measurements of finches collected before and after a drought.

Students can complete the first six tabs as homework, then review and complete the final tab (“Exercise”) in class.

Estimated Time: Half of a 50-minute class period.

Spreadsheet Tutorial 4: t-Test
Topic
Evolution
Science Practices
Resource Type
Activities

This tutorial explores how to calculate t-values and perform t-tests. Students apply what they learn by comparing the beak size measurements they worked with in the previous tutorial.

Students can complete the first four tabs as homework, then review and complete the final tab (“Exercise”) in class.

Estimated Time: One 50-minute class period.

Spreadsheet Tutorial 5: Histogram
Topic
Evolution
Science Practices
Resource Type
Activities

This tutorial explores different ways of constructing a histogram. Students apply what they learned by plotting the beak size measurements they worked with in the previous tutorials.

This tutorial includes five approaches for making histograms (tabs 4–8). Select the most suitable approach for the class to use and have students complete the relevant tab as homework. Student pairs can then review and complete the final tab (“Exercise”) in class.

Estimated Time: One 50-minute class period.