Resource Type
Completion Time
About 1 period
High school and Up
Download, Share, and Remix
Andre Wille
Related Members
Computers with Google Sheets or Excel graphing software for each student or pair of students.
Internet access to download data sets and view introductory video.
Life Science
Tools and Methods
Evolution and Diversity
Regulation and Behavior
Polar Science
General Polar Science


Students in cooperative teams will use a spreadsheet and graphing program such as Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel to graph and evaluate a large data set. The data sets provided come from authentic arctic ground squirrel research completed at Toolik Research station in arctic Alaska. The data sets were downloaded from body temperature loggers implanted into individual animals to better understand the physiology of hibernation. In this activity, student teams will generate graphs individually or in pairs. With graphs visible for interpretation, teams will compare and contrast male and female body temperature changes through the arctic year. Possible explanations for observations will be discussed within the group and as a class.


  • Students will practice graphing skills and data analysis with a large data set using graphing software.
  • Students will generate graphs showing how arctic ground squirrels are adapted to the extreme cold and darkness of the arctic winter.
  • Students will examine a sub-set of the annual data to understand how daily circadian rhythms play a role in summer behavior.
  • Students will compare and contrast the characteristics of male vs. female hibernation behavior and develop hypotheses to explain differences.

Lesson Preparation

  • This lesson fits well within a biology unit when discussing homeostasis, hibernation, or adapting to the environmental conditions of the earth’s biomes.
  • Students should be familiar with the process of data collection from arctic ground squirrels from the PolarTREC archives including journals, and videos. These resources can be explored by beginning at the Arctic Ground Squirrel Studies Expedition Overview.
  • Advance preparation time needed for this activity will depend on student and instructor familiarity with Google Sheets or Excel. If needed, Instructor can demonstrate the following procedure for selecting data, graphing, and then modifying the graph into a final product.

Student Procedure For Excel

  1. Break into teams of four. Each member of your “squirrel team” will graph one of the data sets available online.
  2. Choose an Excel File from the activity folder. This is your individual data set which you will graph and interpret.
  3. Highlight the tab above the dependent and independent variables you wish to compare (Example: Date and Body Temperature)
  4. With two columns highlighted, generate the graph using:
    Insert from the menu bar. Choose scatterplot using the line icon.
  5. Go to Chart Tools and Layout. Give the chart a title, and label the x and y axes.
  6. To better compare the data, add vertical and horizontal gridlines from the Layout menu.
  7. If you want to change the chart type, go to the Chart Tools and Design tab. Select change chart type.
  8. To better see the dates on the X axis, resize your graph to use the full page.
  9. To adjust the dates shown in the X axis, Go to the Chart Tools and Layout. Select Axes, Primary Horizontal Axis, go to bottom of the tab to more primary horizontal axis options. Here you can select axis options, major units as 30 for days in a month, or as 7 for days in a week.
  10. With graph visible on your screen, sketch a simple graph with x and y axes on your answer sheet. Be sure to show any noticeable characteristics and the timing.
  11. With your group, discuss the notable characteristics of your graph. Explain these in a short descriptive paragraph citing specific data values and the dates when these changes occur. Record your answers on the answer sheet.
  12. Compare the data set for a male squirrel and a female. What are the differences? What are the similarities? Compare the data set for a male squirrel and a female. What are the differences? What are the similarities? Record your answers.
  13. During the month of August the data is tightly packed and difficult to interpret. To better understand what is happening during this time, Select the data for the month of August only and make a new graph.
  14. Cut and paste the graph onto it’s own spreadsheet tab.
  15. Modify the X axis so it is legible as was done previously in step 11 above.
  16. Click and drag the corner to expand the X axis to better read the date.
  17. Describe the August graph using example data. What is the body temperature of the squirrels before entering hibernation?
  18. Examine the high points and low points of the graph. Is there any predictable pattern?
  19. In the arctic summer there are 24 hours of daylight and no darkness. What are some of the possible cues that the squirrels could use to set their biological clocks? How might they know what time to be active and when to sleep?
  20. The 24 hour cycle of activity shown in the graph is known as a circadian rhythm. Many arctic animals such as caribou and ptarmigan show no circadian rhythm for daily activity. Why might the circadian rhythm seen in ground squirrels be beneficial to them? How could this help their survival?





  • Completion of the graphs and the data analysis questions (included).
  • Data based assessment questions from unit exam.
  • Student course evaluations describing favorite course units.

Author / Credits

PolarTREC teacher Andre Wille
Aspen High School
awille [at]

Files Include:

  • Data Analysis with Team Squirrel-Procedure
  • Data Analysis Questions
  • Data Files: 2203_Female, 2236_Male, 2245_Female, 2873_Male


c. Regulation and behavior Content Standard E: Science and Technology: a. Abilities of technological design 9-12 Content Standard A: Science As Inquiry: a. Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry b. Understandings about scientific inquiry Content Standard C: Life Science: b. Understandings about science and technology

Standards Other


Colorado State Science Standards: Life Science

  1. Physical and behavioral characteristics of an organism are influenced to varying degrees by heritable genes, many of which encode instructions for the production of proteins
    Explain using examples how genetic mutations can benefit, harm, or have neutral effects on an organism (DOK 1-)
  2. Evolution occurs as the heritable characteristics of populations change across generations and can lead populations to become better adapted to their environment
    a. Analyze and interpret data on how evolution can be driven by three key components of natural selection – heritability, genetic variation, and differential survival and reproduction (DOK 1-3)

National Science Education Standards
Content Standards, Grades 9-12

Content Standard A: Science As Inquiry
a. Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
b. Understandings about scientific inquiry

Content Standard C: Life Science
c. Biological evolution
f. Behavior of organisms

Content Standard E: Science and Technology
a. Abilities of technological design
b. Understandings about science and technology

This program is supported by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed by this program are those of the PIs and coordinating team, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.