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Like Water for Salmon Activity - Tweaked for Practicing Tables ;)

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Tweaked Lesson Plans 

This article is part of the “LP Tweaks” blog series showcasing how small adjustments to the questions, organization, and/or data moves within your existing curriculum can help align the learning to different data skills for your learners. This original lesson is strong, and the intention is not to communicate otherwise but rather to share how you could adjust things for a different desired outcome.

Written by: Naomi W


You are looking for a lesson to help your students better explore 3-LS3-2 “Use evidence to support the explanation that the environment can influence traits”.  And you come across this great data-based lesson “Like Water for Salmon” from The Bay Institute. The lesson focuses on using evidence (e.g., observations, patterns) to support an explanation on how to figure out how much freshwater is being diverted from the big rivers, by people and agriculture, for the salmon and other species. 

Your students have been studying Ecosystem Dynamics in this unit and they have liked the hands-on graphing that you have done with them in the past. And you are excited about how this lesson could help them use the evidence to show a different picture of what you are looking at.

However, based on your student's performance in the last unit you are looking to give them more time to practice their skills to “Record and organize information in a premade table ” (see Building Blocks for Data Literacy to explore the corresponding data skills of these areas more).

You are torn, you like the Like Water for Salmon lesson but you are worried the questions aren’t directly getting at the data skills your learners need to practice at this point in the year, but the content is. What do you do?

Let’s check out some easy optional tweaks to make the lesson more what you are looking for now for your students.

Here is an example of how we can adjust the layout of the lesson to more directly help your current students practice data skills we know they are weaker on (or we are more interested in targeting this specific data interaction) at this point in the year.

The revised table is designed to help students “Record and organize their information in a premade table” in a format that aligns with the bar chart organization, rather than just as a list. This organization does not add a large amount to the students' workload, but it does provide a more targeted practice of data recording skills. The new table format can help the students get a better understanding of the data they are looking at so that they can more easily graph and explore the data.

Even though it is important for students to make lists in the written form,  they also need to learn how to record and organize data in a structured numerical form as well.  It is best to start them off at an earlier age with both forms of data. Therefore, with the addition of a new prompt and a pre-made data table – for the students to fill in – you can use the tried-and-true lesson you found while also better aligning it with your current learners' needs and/or your desired focus areas for your learners to practice data skills.

To me, that feels like a win-win…using a lesson that you like with a more strategic data focus to help learners build their skills :)

Will this exact tweak work for everyone or every lesson? Absolutely not!

In fact, this lesson could be extended up to middle school to help students strengthen their understanding of independent and dependent variables. For example when looking at the bar chart, you could help students practice the difference between the independent variable (typically on the x-axis) and the dependent variable (typically on the y-axis). This one is fun to practice with as students have collected the data themselves, but it may take some extra thinking about which variable is which.

I usually tell the students the independent variable is what you are testing or manipulating (aka, what is changing in response to something) and the dependent variable is what you are measuring about the situation (or the stimulus). I teach them the mnemonic DRY MIX, for “dependent, responding, y-axis” and “manipulated, independent, x-axis,” which can help students remember this point.