Academic journal article The Science Teacher

The Dark Side of the Tube: A Science and Statistics Integration Activity Using Charismatic Cockroaches

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

The Dark Side of the Tube: A Science and Statistics Integration Activity Using Charismatic Cockroaches

Article excerpt


Every high school graduate should be able to use data analysis and statistical reasoning to draw conclusions about the world. Two core statistical concepts for students to understand are the role of variability in measures and evaluating the effect of a variable (Franklin et al. 2007). In this activity, students investigate a scientific question that leads them to distinguish between natural and induced variability. The distinction leads students to making conclusions about which stimulus is most effective at drawing Madagascar hissing cockroaches (MHCs) out of the dark.

The Madagascar hissing cockroach: Overview

The beautiful and charismatic Madagascar hissing cockroach (Gromphadorhina portentosa) is a large nocturnal insect (photo, next page) indigenous to the island of Madagascar that most students find exciting and enjoyable to work with. MHCs are slow moving, cannot bite or fly, and are easy to handle (see sidebar, p. 29). They do not transmit disease to humans and do not infest human habitations. Both males and females can produce a loud hissing sound when disturbed. MHCs have a complex social hierarchy. Male MHCs fight other males to establish and defend territories within their colony to attract females for mating. These territories, once established, consist of one dominate male, a few females, and many nymphs.

The Madagascar hissing cockroach activity

Science content

High school science students are often unable to statistically analyze the data that result from class experiments. This activity allows students to better emulate scientific practices by performing the same statistical analysis a scientist would perform in the laboratory, while requiring very little knowledge about data analysis. Students performing statistical analysis engage in two essential scientific practices identified in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States 2013): Analyzing and Interpreting Data and Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking. This activity also teaches the students about the behavioral characteristics of a large living arthropod and may stimulate curiosity about the arthropods that live in their regional environment. Finally, this activity may increase students' curiously about other statistically based scientific studies they might design in the future.

Statistics content

To analyze and visualize the data collected, students will produce a means plot and compute an analysis of variance (ANOVA) model. The plot displays the means of each group with error bars based on the observed natural variability. The use of means plots and ANOVA models is common in scientific studies where one variable is changed or manipulated. The analysis allows an investigator to decide whether the differences in means are due to this manipulated variable or just to chance. The means plots allow a visual examination of the data while the ANOVA model provides a numerical description of how different the means of each group are. (For more on means plots and ANOVA models, see "Resources.") The statistics learning objectives of this activity align to the NGSS scientific practices of Analyzing and Interpreting Data and Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking (NGSS Lead States 2013) and the Common Core State Standards, Mathematics to "Reason abstractly and quantitatively" (MP.2) (NGAC and CCSSO 2010).


Setup and data collection

This activity involves making a plastic tube with a darkened end and a transparent end. Students will explore ways to draw the MHCs from the dark end to the light end. Begin the activity by placing students into groups of five and then present or have students research basic biological information about nocturnal arthropods (e.g., they are ectotherms and so on) and explore available external stimuli (e.g., heating pads, types of food, fluorescent lights) that might affect cockroach behavior. …

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