Brushing Up on Graphing (Day 1 of 3)

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Students will be able to identify the major parts of a graph and demonstrate high quality graphing skills by creating and analyzing line graphs from population data.

Big Idea

Create and use an interesting, contemporary data set to drive a discussion of the practice and use of graphs in scientific study and discussion!

Notes for the Teacher

The purpose of this three day lesson is to work with graphing on a deeper level for freshman and sophomore level students.  Although many students have had practice with graphing in the lower grades, their expertise is limited and seems to focus mainly on bar graphs rather than line or other types of visual representations of data.  Extracting and analyzing data from visual resources such as graphs is an important skill for science students and one I want to begin building into our classroom structure as soon as possible in our new semester.  

Day 1 of this lesson provides students with the opportunity to build their skills with Excel software while reviewing basic guidelines for well constructed graphs.

Standards:  RST.9-10.3, RST.9-10.7

Day 2 is when we compare student constructed graphs to the graphing guidelines and check for quality and reader usability of both hand drawn and Excel graphs.  

Standards: SL.9-10.7, RST.9-10.7, SP1, SP8

On Day 3, we move into a data analysis and prediction lesson using our student constructed graphs.  By using interesting and accessible world population numbers, the lesson allows students to construct and discuss the implications of their visual representation of the data.  This classroom discussion also gives them the opportunity to discuss potential extensions to the data/graph and is a natural transition activity into our next unit on the basic chemistry and wide ranging implications of climate change.  

Standards: SL.9-10.1, SL.9-10.1d, HS-ETS-1, XC-P-HS-4, SP1, SP4, SP7

The Classroom Flow: Introduction to Graphing in Excel

10 minutes

1.  Announce to students that this week they will be working with graphs--how to make them and how to use them to better understand data and to make predictions from data.  

2.  Pass out the graphing activity handout.  Ask for student volunteers to share out the major components of well constructed graphs listed on the top of the page.  You may also give out a half-sheet of these guidelines for easy reference by students after they turn in the graphing activity handout.

3.  As student volunteers read, write the most important/new vocabulary on the board:  units, variables, x and y axis, descriptive title, independent and dependent variable.  Discuss and review each term as needed for your particular student group.  

4.  Share with students that today they will be working on graphing with Excel and that the procedure for this is found on page two of the handout.

The Classroom Flow: Working with Excel

40 minutes

1.  Ask students to assist you in reading the introductory paragraph and directions for the activity.  You can use a popcorn method or call on students to read.

2.  Take students through the computer login process and have them follow along with your computer work on the projector screen to ensure every student can get into the Excel program. 

3.  Allow students to work on computers to construct their Excel graph of world population data.  You will find that the workroom tends to be busy and productive, with very little off-task conversations during this activity. The directions are explicit and at the same time, they do require attention and concentration.

  • Note: Although I walk around actively during the session, I try not to intervene as students confer with each other to troubleshoot and problem solve their individual dilemmas.  I am attempting to instill independence and focus and by providing a very explicit set of directions that are accessible to almost every student, this is an activity that really can help students to develop those skills with minimal anxiety.  During the Day 2 lesson, I provide a much higher level of explicit support and feedback as we dig into the graphs they produce and figure out what they mean, how they compare, and what we need to do to improve our skills.  

4.  If a student finishes early, take time to review their graph with them.  There will typically be some aspect of their graph that they need to revisit, revise, or redo.  If this is not the case, you can have that student begin to work on their hand drawn graph by following the directions listed on the document. 

5.  I've included a sample Excel graph for you to see what you might get from students.  At this point in our discussion, I am looking only for attention to the most basic graphing rules:  a title and each axis labeled with units and variables.

  • Note: You may notice that there is one error on this graph.   I included it intentionally to demonstrate a common issue kids come across and one that you will be addressing later on in the lesson series: the distribution of numbers along each axis.  Some students may notice that each mark is not consistent, resulting in data that is inaccurately portrayed and may correct it.  Others may not notice and that is ok for today.  I have found that it is a more meaningful and lasting lesson to have students compare graphs over the following days of the series and spot the error and its significance for themselves than to correct them as they are creating.

Independent Work: Completing the Activity at Home

1.  As the class session comes to an end, announce that students should bring a print-out of their Excel graphs to class tomorrow.  Alternatively, you can have them print out their graphs in class with you now or bring and use their personal devices to access the graphs in class tomorrow.

 2.  Let students know that their graphs don't need to be perfect by tomorrow's class session and that you'll be using them for an extended activity with a final due date later in the week.  

 Now on to Day 2!