Human Population 5E Lab Using Cemetery Data Part I

One of the most interesting labs in Regular or AP®Environmental Science is using cemetery data for human population studies. This 5E covers Several topics from the new AP Environmental Science Course and Exam Description including 3.3 “Survivorship Curves,” 3.8 “Human Population Dynamics” and 3.9 “Demographic Transition” and 8.15 “Pathogens and Infectious Disease”.

The Cemetery Lab is also good for AP Science Practices of data analysis, math calculations, and text analysis as well as NGSS Science and Engineering Practices.

The lab takes 2-3 class periods (45-50 min) with homework.

For copies of all the Cemetery 5E Lab files, scroll down to “Materials and Supplies”

Different Ways to do the Cemetery Lab

  1. Go to a real cemetery with students
  2. Take pictures at a cemetery and use the pictures in lab (shown above)
  3. Purchase a set of tombstones pictures. I cultivated this set of original photos during trips around the country. It has many famous people historically and from movies, film and music.
  4. Use “made-up” tombstones from a file and post around the room
  5. Use a database of tombstone data from a real cemetery
This short video was taken when my students did the cemetery lab.

Cemetery Lab Pictures or Databases

What you choose depends on your resources. If you cannot take kids to a real cemetery, I highly recommend going to a local old cemetery and taking pictures of headstones, printing them and have students use for data in the lab. I live in a fairly new town that doesn’t have an old cemetery so my pictures come from nearby Los Angeles which is as local as I can get for my students.

Packs of 25 Pictures. My students work in pairs.

You need 200-400 pictures of headstones with enough pictures of the following:

  • Males and Females born before 1900 and after 1900 (about half and half if you can)
  • Women who died young-in their 20s and 30s (most before 1900)
  • Babies and young children that died (most before 1900)

My pictures are printed and students analyze 400+ names. It is also easy to have students analyze the pictures on computers instead of printing pictures.

If you don’t have pictures of tombstones or take kids to a cemetery, you can purchase this set.

Another option is to print this file of fake tombstones made by AP® Environmental Science teacher Michelle Miller Fagen and post around the room, lab, hallway or other location.

Another option is to use an online database of burials in a cemetery. Find a Grave is one site that does this.

I do not have advice for going to a real cemetery as I have never taken students to one.

Materials and Set up for the Cemetery Lab

Materials for Day 1 of the lab (about 50 minutes)

These four papers can be laminated or inserted into plastic sleeves as they are not necessary for the students to keep. They are used for calculations that then go onto a class spreadsheet.

For Day 2 of the lab (about 45-50 minutes), student need:

  • Access to the class spreadsheet
  • A graph handout

Students can finish the graph at home as needed. I also assigned “Explain: Student Sense-Making” on page 2 for homework.

Day 3 of the lab (50 minutes) is best done in class to avoid students copying from each other, but this can also be given as homework.

The remainder of the lab “Elaborate” and “Evaluate” are easily done as homework.


Decorating the lab is really fun if you do the lab in the month of October for Halloween. I have Halloween lights, fake cobwebs, and play spooky classical music.

My lab/classroom with Halloween decoration. The back wall has a lighted spiderweb.

My students use their cell phone flashlights to do the lab which makes it more fun. Some even make a lantern with their phones and a beaker of water.

Go to the next post for details about each part of this 5E Cemetery Lab.
Human Population 5E Lab Using Cemetery Data Part II

For more population resources, I have two items on TPT: Population Math Packet with formulas, 3 practice worksheets, practice quiz, quiz with FRQ and answer keys. Also, Draw an Age-Structure Diagram (Population Pyramid).

For more labs per unit in AP® Environmental Science, click on this link.

* AP® is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse this site.