Brushing Up on Graphing (Day 2 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

This lesson is the second in a three lesson series on reviewing graphing guidelines and creating graphs using Excel.  The purpose of this lesson seriesis 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.  

During Day 1, students explored graphing using Excel.  

Standards:  RST.9-10.3, RST.9-10.7

Today, students will analyze their Excel graphs, assess their quality against our graphing guidelines and begin to translate those skills into hand-drawn graphs.  

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

On Day 3, we will compare our graphs, list out the most important aspects of well-constructed graphs, and discuss the information we can obtain and predict we can make from graphed data.  

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


In the past, I have experimented with utilizing either Excel or the hand drawn graphs as the entry point for our graphing guidelines review and discussion.   I have found that starting with the Excel piece is a better fit for the skills I want students to practice and engage in over the three day arc.  During the Excel lesson, students really focus on following a multi-step procedure and then together today we unpack that experience in a substantive way.  By allowing students to do the slow work of planning out and drawing graphs on the second day, this activity series allows students to reflect upon the meat of their Excel experience while applying our guidelines discussion and analysis to their hand drawn graphs.

This was by far the best graphing lesson arc I've experienced as a teacher and based upon student work such as the samples I have included below, I believe this use of student work in Excel for comparison and analysis prior to constructing hand drawn graphs is the piece that had been missing for me and my students in past versions of graphing review lessons.

The Classroom Flow: Connecting and Introducing the Activity

15 minutes

1.  Ask students to take out the Excel graph that they created yesterday.  

2.  Post on the board the following prompts:  

  • what do you notice about your data?
  • what were some of the challenges you encountered as you created your graph in the computer lab?

 3. Use the spokesperson protocol to provide time for small group discussions about the prompts and gather feedback from all groups in a large group discussion.  

  • Note: I found that students really need and appreciate this time to discuss the pitfalls they encountered and to share their list of tips and tricks for working with Excel.  Doing so allows them to release the stress that comes from working with a new tech tool and builds community as students see common experiences within the group and compare their strategies for dealing with technology issues.

4. Ask students to take out their graphing activity handout from yesterday.  Ask them to share out the major guidelines for a well constructed graph.  Write them on the board and clarify terminology as needed by your class.  Remind students that these graphing rules are found on the top of their handout as well as on the half-page  graphing guidelines sheet they received yesterday.

5. Tell students that today they will be graphing the same data by hand using graph paper, rulers, and colored pencils.  

The Classroom Flow: Constructing Hand Drawn Graphs

35 minutes

1. Provide students with the materials they need:  graphing paper, rulers, and colored pencils.

2.  Allow students to work on their graphs for the remainder of the class period.  During this time frame you can walk around to assist in student focus on the task or you can observe from your desk area.  My main goal during this session is to be an observer and to allow students the space and time to work through their skill based questions on their own or in a collaboration with other learners as much as possible.

  • Note:  I find that students choose their best working conditions pretty wisely:  some stay at their desks and work solo while other work in pairs at their lab tables.  Some students will reference their written graphing guidelines, others confer with each other and reference the graph they already made using Excel, while other students prefer to come up to the board to review vocabulary or clarify concepts with me.  

3.  If a student finishes early, review their graph with them together to ensure it is of the best quality.  If they have no other revisions to do, they can work on the analysis questions on the original assignment document.  

4.  As the class period comes to an end, tell students that they should bring both of their constructed graphs to class tomorrow for our discussion.  The student sample graphs A and B show that our discussion about graphing at the start of the class using our work with Excel yesterday had a positive impact and that students were able to transfer their observations and analysis of their Excel graphs and graphing guidelines to the work they did today with their hand drawn work.  

On to Day 3!