Ant Picnic Data Discovery

Grades K-5, 6-8 or 9-12

2-3 hours

Biology / Math / Statistics


Introduction to Ant Picnic Data Analysis

About this activity

Scientists always collect and record data when they conduct experiments. In science classes, students also have to collect and record data to answer research questions. However, unlike scientists, students often believe that data are self-evident. This belief can lead students to focus on numbers as answers without making connections to the real world. In science, data alone are not enough to answer real-world research questions. Instead data need to be turned into evidence. To do so, scientists need to analyze and interpret data by organizing it and looking for patterns related to research questions. For instance, if a research question asked whether squirrels hide more nuts on a cold day or a warm day, scientists must add up the nuts hidden per day, calculate an average of the nuts per day and compare the average number of nuts collected on a cold day to the average on a warm day. Simply knowing the total amount of nuts will not provide the evidence needed to answer the research question.

In this activity students can try their hand at analyzing data. To do so, they will use the data they collected in the Ant Picnic experiment. This activity cannot be done unless Ant Picnic has been completed and students have their Ant Picnic data available.

Students can manipulate data using Google Sheets or graphing paper depending on grade level and/or availability of technology. This is suited for students grades K-12. See instructions below.

There is an opportunity for extension for high school and more advanced middle school students using CODAP (Common Online Data Analysis Platform), an interactive online platform that allows advanced manipulation of Ant Picnic data. In CODAP, students can explore an existing global dataset collected by scientists and add their own Ant Picnic data for comparison. CODAP allows students to create and analyze tables and graphs and draw conclusions to answer their own research questions. See Teacher Guide for more details.

Curriculum alignment

  • Middle School Next Generation Science Standards
    MS-LS2-1; MS-LS2-4; MS-LS4-4

  • High School Next Generation Science Standards
    HS-LS2-1; H-LS2-2

  • North Carolina Essential Standards – Math

    • Grades K‑5: NC.1.MD.4 | NC.2.NBT.2, NC.2.NBT.3, NC.2.NBT.4, NC.2.NBT.6, NC.2.NBT.7, NC.2.MD.10 | NC.3.NBT.2, NC.3.MD.3 | NC.4.MD.4 | NC.5.MD.2
    • Grades 6-8: NC.6.SP.1, NC.6.SP.2, NC.6.SP.3, NC.6.SP.4, NC.6.SP.5 | NC.7.NS.1, NC.7.NS.3, NC.7.SP.1, NC.7.SP.3, NC.7.SP.4 | NC.8.SP.1, NC.8.SP.2
    • Grades 9-12: NC.M1.S-ID.1, NC.M1.S-ID.2, NC.M1.S-ID.3, NC.M1.S-ID.6
  • North Carolina Essential Standards – Technology
    6.TT.1.2, 7.TT.1.2, 8.TT.1.2

Here’s what you’ll need


Step 1
Step 1

Step 1

Watch introductory video with students. The video mentions the CODAP online platform although you may not use this platform for your grade level. If you do NOT plan to do the CODAP Extension, you can use the video as an introduction to the idea that scientists use a variety of tools to analyze and visualize data.

Step 2
Step 2

Step 2

Carefully review the materials available and choose which activities suit your classroom best.

Step 3
Step 3

Step 3

Gather the materials needed according to your grade level and follow the corresponding teacher instructions available in the Teacher Guide (download at the top of this page).

Before you start (some helpful hints)

  • Please, make sure you have completed the Ant Picnic experiment prior to starting this activity. Students will require their own Ant Picnic data to complete the assignments.

  • Carefully consider and follow the teacher instructions for each student activity sheet. (see Teacher Guide)

  • Grades K-5: It is best to have a maximum number of three experimental sites (i.e., student groups) for completing the Student Activity Sheet.

  • Grades 6-12: Students can share their completed work in Google Sheets with you. This will eliminate printing and allow you to give feedback easily.

  • Extension with CODAP:

    • Computers with large screens will work better. They will eliminate excessive scrolling!
    • Please note that the CODAP website may load slowly depending on the speed of your computer and internet connection. If any section of the main interface appears blank, reload or reopen the page.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  • If my students didn’t get any ants at their Ant Picnic experiment, how do I explain the difference between zeros and no data?

  • We ran the Ant Picnic experiment as one big group and are not able to compare different sites – can we still work with the data?

  • How do students share documents?

  • Should my students work with the Pre-Collection Count or the Final Count?

  • My students are still working, but class is over – will they lose all of their work?

  • CODAP is too advanced for my students – what can I do?

  • How do students save their work in CODAP?

  • CODAP is not loading – what can I do?

  • My students messed up something in CODAP and they can’t get it back – how do we fix it?

  • How do I enter our own Ant Picnic data in CODAP?

  • I have a question that I don’t see listed here – what can I do?

…download the TEACHER GUIDE at the top of this page to get the answers!

Ant Picnic Data Discovery downloads at a glance

K-5 Activity Sheet
6-8 Activity Sheet
CODAP Extension Activity Sheet

About the Scientists

Magda SorgerDr. Magdalena Sorger is an adjunct researcher at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science. She’s an evolutionary ecologist interested in the diversity, distribution, and behavior of ants and other insects. More on her website

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Kristin Bedell is a doctoral candidate at the University of North Carolina School of Education. She is interested in how students make sense of their worlds through science.

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Other Ant Activities

Ant Picnic Lesson

Other Resources

Ant ID Keys
Dr. Eleanor’s Book of Common Ants
Myrmex Comic
Discover ANTS Website

Project Kenan Fellows

Pictured (from left to right): Dr. Magdalena Sorger, Michelle Hafey, Paige Derouin, Dr. DeAnna Beasley and Maggie McKinley.

About the SciArt

buzz_hoot_roar Students Discover SciArt is created by Buzz Hoot Roar, the amazing team that brings science to life in their graphics-driven science blog.

About the Artist

Caitlin AtteberryCaitlin Atteberry is a graphic designer based in Raleigh, NC. Find Caitlin’s other work conveniently at

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