Shark Data Analysis in Math Class

By: Mary Kienstra on: May 17, 2015  in: data, student engagement

Any good project reaches across the day to different parts of the curriculum.  Our shark tracking project took center-stage this week as students worked with shark data analysis in math class.  The first thing students did was adopt a shark and then track it on  Once kids have their own sharks, they own the learning and are ready to explore all aspects of shark research.  See my previous post about this project. 

Of course we have an excellent text book that teaches all the data analysis standards for  4th and 5th grades.  The book includes examples that someone made up to try to engage kids in studying data.  But what really interests kids is data that is relevant to them – like data about their sharks.


This is an excerpt of the shark data on the Excel spreadsheet.

We created a class spreadsheet where each student recorded the vital information about their sharks (one student is tracking the green sea turtle.).  Since the initial project was to analyze the shark lengths, the first step for students was to convert the lengths from feet and inches measurement to feet.  This was a good review for changing parts of feet into decimals.

The objectives in this data analysis unit for both 4th and 5th grades include creating line plots, histograms, and box plots.  So, naturally, the next step was to analyze the lengths of the sharks by creating these graphs.


Students create graphs to display the data for the lengths of the sharks.

Students worked in groups to display the data in different forms of graphs.  Their visual representations provided various ways to understand and interpret the lengths of their sharks.  Creating graphs is so much more powerful for students than just viewing graphs.  These students own this data and were very interested to see how it would look on the plot.

The finished graphs encourage students to critically analyze the shark length data. These representations show the differences in shark lengths and allow students to  interpret the data.  After the students created the graphs, they wrote questions and wondered about the data.  “What if we graphed the length by species instead of all on one graph?”  “What if we chose different sharks?”  “Are there any outliers?”  “Can we find the lengths of ALL the sharks?”

Next up: We’ll answer some of those questions and see what else they can learn.  Because when students ask the questions, they are much more engaged in their learning.



Histogram of shark length data from 4th graders.



Box plot of shark length data for 5th graders.

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