While students are familiar with creating a variety of graph types, most students don't know when to use specific graphs. This is a concept that students need to master prior to leaving middle school as it builds their skills within SP4: Analyzing and Interpreting Data. This lesson specifically focuses on the following areas within Practice 4:
As students enter class, they are asked to look at the data they collected the previous day and determine what type of graph they will use and why they are choosing that particular graph. I ask a few students to share their answers with the class. Most students will choose a type of graph but their reasons are usually unclear or "because it is easy to make."
I address the class asking "does anyone know how to determine when to use specific graphs?" Most have no idea that there are right and wrong graph choices.
At this point I have students take formal notes as we go over the Common Graphs PowerPoint. I tell students that they don't need to write every word, they just need to get the key points to create a student friendly cheat sheet (I identify the key points on the first few slides and then ask students to identify the key points for the rest.)
I want students to have the key information written neatly in a format they can easily find and refer to over the course of the year. Additionally, this connects to Common Core RI.8.2 Determining a central idea of a text...(and) provide an objective summary of a text. Summarizing is a critical skill that students will be practicing throughout the year.
This video is a screen cast explaining how I use this PowerPoint with my students.
When we finish going through the notes, I either project graph types guided practice onto the screen or pass out a copy for each student. I have students answer the questions independently before we go over the answers together to ensure the students are developing an understanding of the concept.
Students work in their groups to determine which type of graph to use for the data from their independent experiment. Once they agree, each student must make his/her own graph so everyone gets practice making the graph. Students can hand draw or use the computer to create their graph. I have students work on this independently so I can assess how well each student constructs a graph while they continue to develop the skills found within Science Practice 4, particularly constructing graphical displays of data.
I often use this time to teach students how to use the free online program Create a Graph, but it depends on the ability to get access to the team computers. I like this program because it is easy to use and students can either print or email their graph depending on what is preferred. The downside is you need to be aware of cheating as it is easy for one student to do the work and just change the name while printing different graphs. If you are unfamiliar with this program, the CREATE-A-GRAPH instructions are what I give the students to become familiar with what to do. I still suggest you play around with the program as there is some trial and error involved with making the different types of graphs.
When students finish their independent graph, they will begin the Graph Practice worksheet. This should be done independently so that I can get an accurate understanding of each student's understanding of the concept. Students hand this in when it is complete. The following video shows a student using the cheat sheet we just created to determine the answer to a practice question.
The human brain is good at remembering rhymes and I like to use that to my advantage as much as possible. To conclude this lesson I ask students to create a rhyme for each type of graph, starting with the graph the student finds the most confusing and write it in their science journal.
For example, when considering a circle graph I might write "When comparing parts of a whole, a circle graph is how I roll." Rhymes should make sense based on when to accurately use each graph but must be memorable for the student. Here are some Graph Rhyme Student Examples that may be helpful.
I like to pick 2 or 3 of the best rhymes for each of the 4 types of graphs we use and retype and hang them on the wall for students to reference as they learn this material.