Reflection: Complex Tasks Flu Tracking (Part 2/3) - Section 5: Student Activity: Looking for Patterns


One of the best ways to help students see patterns is to give them many opportunities to analyze and interpret data sets and graphs. In addition to creating their own graphs, I make it a point to show students professionally made graphs in every unit---both traditionally depicted graphs and weird looking graphs. We call these WLGs for short. At the beginning of the year, I have students look at a lot of pre-made graphs so they can see all of the various ways to report scientific data. 

Also, at the beginning of the year, I model for students how I look at a graph and try to derive meaning from it.  I start by asking students to tell me what they see in a particular graph.  I list everything they tell me verbatim.  Once we have a substantial list, then I have them look at particular elements of the graph.

  • Look at the x-axis (I remind them that this is the independent variable).  
  • Identify the y-axis (I ask is there more than one y-axis? I remind them that this is the dependent variable)
  • Consider the units of measurement, what they measure, and why they might have been chosen. 
  • Determine if we can fit a function to the graph.  
  • Determine the slope of the line. Where is it positive, negative, or zero? 
  • Having looked at all these elements, we write a summary statement for the graph.  

Once we have discussed the data, then I ask them what they think that data means in light of the content we are studying. This part of data analysis is very hard for students because it doesn't come naturally to many. At the beginning of the year, I ask many leading questions and in many cases, I will tell them if a graph does this, then it means this. As much as possible, I try to follow-up with another example of a graph showing the same trend so students can see what I mean.  

As the year progresses, I give them a checklist of items to consider when interpreting a graph, but I leave most of the initial interpretation up to them. We always do some type of class discussion when we look at WLGs because students still struggle with them. However, if they use the checklist to help them, by the time they graduate, all are interpreting graphs like a pro.  

When using real-world data, I pay careful attention to outliers in data sets and noise in graphs. We use Vernier's LoggerPro software frequently because you can exclude outliers in your predictions of the mathematical function of the graph. One can also draw a prediction of what the graph might look like before fitting a curve or line to the graph. The curve fit function of this program also allows one to try several functions before settling on the one that students best think fits the data set.   

Graph interpretation, as well as looking for patterns, is a skill that is improved with repeated practice. In the words of Winston Churchill, "Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.


  Complex Tasks: Helping Students See Patterns in Data
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Flu Tracking (Part 2/3)

Unit 2: Viruses
Lesson 8 of 11

Objective: Students will analyze past and present influenza data to determine how epidemiologists evaluate a spread of the disease.

Big Idea: Will it be a bad flu season this year? Use actual data to track the spread of the true flu.

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Science, Biology / Life Science, Genetics, models / tables / graphs (rates of change), viruses
  46 minutes
pie chart for the cdc s flu view
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