Right now, many students are spending much time at home in front of their computers. What better time to help them improve their data graphing skills with a spreadsheet application, instead of with graphing paper and pencil. After all, working with data on a spreadsheet, producing graphs and statistically analyzing trends are essential scientific skills.
Data-centered activities are most meaningful and interesting for students when they use real-world data. Our downloadable data comes from conservation scientists at Kruger National Park in South Africa who have been monitoring endangered white and black rhinos for many years trying to protect them from poaching and other disasters.
Endangered rhinos dataset
Two rhino species live in Africa: the white rhino and the smaller black rhino. Poachers hit both rhino populations so hard that they came to the brink of extinction.
Rhinos are killed for their horns because many people (mistakenly) think that they have healing powers and are ready to pay a lot of money for them. (Yet, a pill made of rhino horn has the same effect as a pill made of ground toenails.) As a result, there are about 20,000 white rhinos and only about 5000 black rhinos left in Africa, despite all the people working to protect them.
The following data come from a research paper published in the academic journal PLOS One in 2019. In spite of the real-life source, this graphing activity is suitably simple for middle and lower high school students.
- Open the topic by showing photographs of the two rhino species and a map locating Kruger National Park in South Africa.
- Discuss the major threats rhinos are facing – poaching, habitat loss, droughts, disease, genetic bottlenecks.
- Ask the students if they want to find out for themselves how the rhinos in Kruger National Park are doing.
- Prompt them to download the following spreadsheet on their own computers.
- Alternatively, they can open this Google spreadsheet using any browser and still have the same functionality. In order to edit it, they need to save it to their own Google drive (or another cloud-based drive).
- The spreadsheet has 4 tabs: two for the total population of each of the species and two for the number of animals poached (illegally killed).
- Using one of the tabs, demonstrate how to create a graph from the 5 data points:
- Selects the 12 cells we want to be included in the graph (i.e. the 5 years, the 5 population estimates, and the two titles on top)
- Click Insert > Chart.
- A graph is automatically generated.
- During the reading extension, the students will realize that this is the same graph published in the scientific article.
- The data on poaching is more presentable as a bar chart instead of a line graph. Show the students how to change that format.
- Have the students repeat these steps for the remaining tabs. The exact steps may differ slightly in other spreadsheet applications. Nevertheless, all modern applications have automatic graphing in some shape or form.
- The graphs can be found in the downloadable document but they are “hidden” further down so that the students can generate their own.
Finally, discuss the trends the students can see from the data as well as some possible solutions to the problems rhinos face.
By the end of the exercise, students will have lots of questions about threats to rhinos, poaching in general and what can be done to help with the problem. Refer them to pick one of the following two scientific articles which will answer some of their questions.
At the end of each article, they will find a few assessment questions which teachers can use to quantify the students’ understanding. The teachers’ keys can be found on the same pages.
In this article, researchers are investigating if illegal hunters are the only problem rhinos are facing or if other factors also influence their survival.
Scientists tested different scenarios of how to save white rhinos from extinction and found a winning combination of actions.