Brushing Up on Graphing (Day 3 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 is the third day of a three day series of lessons focused on graphing.

During Day 1, students explored graphing using Excel.  

Standards:  RST.9-10.3, RST.9-10.7

On Day 2, students analyzed their Excel graphs, assessed their quality against our graphing guidelines and began to translate those skills into hand-drawn graphs.  

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

Today, 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

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.  The slower pace of the lesson series and guided discussions has resulted in more consistently well-constructed graphs by all students so far this year.  

See my short video for more on how interesting data led to an enhanced graphing activity learning experience for kids as they analyzed what our visual representations meant and how they might change over time as more data is added in.  I have found that since this lesson, all of our experiences with graphed data have resulted in deeper discussions and analysis.  

The Classroom Flow: Reviewing Graphing Basics

15 minutes

1.   Ask students to take out their graphing activity handout, their half-sheet of graphing guidelines, and their two graphs of world population data (Excel and hand-drawn).

2.  Using the spokesperson protocol ask students to compare their two graphs:  What do you notice about them?  What is different about them?

3.  Student groups should be able to see that the Excel graph x and y axis are not consistent in their spacing which leads a different view of the world population data.  See student sample work for what this common error looks like and how it can skew the data field, something that will be really obvious to students as they compare their two graphs with each other and with the others in their lab group.  This will allow you to really talk about how important it is to look critically at visual data and confirm the accuracy of how graphs are set up by their creator.  Check out my Day 2 video for more on this step.

The Classroom Flow: Comparing and Analyzing Student Constructed Graphs

20 minutes

1.   Ask students to look again at their graphing guidelines.  

2.  Give them a few minutes to compare their Excel and hand-drawn graphs to their graphing guidelines and make any changes they feel are necessary.  

3.  Tell students you'd like to go through the major areas that you have noticed over the years that consistently need improvement on student graphs:  

  • descriptive titles
  • units/variables
  • spacing/interval choices on the x and y axis 

 4. Ask students to take a look at their titles.  Briefly discuss the idea of 'descriptive' titles and how the title of a graph should give an instant and detailed account of the visual data.  

  • Use the spokesperson protocol so that each group can compare/share their titles and come up with an improved title suggestion.  Share them out with the large group using a brief whip around to each group spokesperson and come to a consensus about the best, most descriptive one.

 5.  Briefly address the format for identifying the variables and units for each axis and best practices for choosing intervals/spacing on each access.

  • Note:  Students really get into this conversation about spacing/interval choices for each axis.  It is a relief to them to hear that this is thinking work and something that should take a bit of time to come to the best fit for their data and graph.  Using student examples from the class or from created by the teacher helps to show different ways to create graphs that are convenient for the reader (or not).  For example, students will immediately see through comparison that putting numbers under each graph box available is very challenging and actually distracts from the data.  I have found that asking the students to consider and analyze their graphs from the point of view of the viewer generates good conversation, greater confidence in their abilities to make those decisions, and improved graphs overall.

 6.  Discuss any clarifying questions that come up from the graph guidelines conversation.  

The Classroom Flow: Making Meaning from Graphs

15 minutes

1.  Use the spokesperson protocol to start a discussion about the data they have graphed.  Post this prompt:  

What do you think will happen to world population numbers in the future?

2.  Post this graph or any other current graph with projections for world population growth.  Ask students to brainstorm and share out what they think is most likely to happen and why.

  • Note:  You can continue to use the spokesperson protocol if you feel students need support in speaking out in the large group. I found that the graph data was so compelling for my students that we switched to a more informal, spontaneous popcorn model of classroom interaction.  I was completely blown away by the depth of and interest in this conversation by each group of students throughout our three day graphing lesson!  I can't wait to hear your experiences with this format for graphing review and practice.