Teaching Graphs Can Be Fun If Data is Important to Kids

Teaching graphs and charts can be fun in math if graphs such as stem and leaf plots and box plots display data that is important to kids. Once again, it's all about context because they will pay attention if the data is about them.

Data collection and analysis - teaching graphs and charts - is a regular part of my class. Rather than stopping and doing a separate unit, I use it as a tool throughout the year to help children analyze how they are doing. Graphing their own progress means a lot more than just looking at pictures in books which have no meaning for them.

I regularly deliver data after each test to show students where their score falls within the set of class data. It seems to be a motivating factor for many, and there are no names so only they know which scores are theirs.

Since box plots appear on the Common Core, this is the method I use to display class data. We then work with those scores - their scores - to figure the mean, median, mode, and range of the scores. We also figure the quartiles to create a box plot.

My experience has been that since these scores are about them, squarely in their context, they learn the vocabulary much more readily. And, as always, it is about understanding the terminology - the Language of Math

Math Meets Reading

Teaching math really is about language, and teaching graphs and charts is not just an objective for math teachers. The skill appears in reading and language arts curriculum as well. Why?

Comparing and analyzing information from graphs and charts are ways of thinking and processing which are skills necessary for reading. Not only that, but graphs and charts appear in subjects like science and social studies, too, so there are lots of opportunities for practicing this important skill.

Adding emphasis in these other areas will strengthen all of them so if you are not teaching those subjects to your students, you might consider asking those teachers to give extra attention to this very important topic.

Go to Language of Math from Teaching Graphs and Charts

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.


What Can We Graph?

Graphing their own scores and keeping track of their own progress is a powerful motivator for students, and this is data which means something to them. There are other ways to collect data, too. Here are a few that have been fun for me and my students. You can help them decide which kind of graph would best represent the data.

Jumping Rope - Since this is an important coordination activity which organizes the brain for reading and improves reading fluency it is always a good way to collect data for graphing and analysis. So grab a couple of jump ropes and see who can jump the most times without missing. You'll be combining math and reading, plus learning will be linked with emotion. What could be better?

Frisbee Throws - This one is a great activity because it also involves measuring distances - how far they throw the frisbee. For more advanced students, scatter plots may be developed establishing whether or not there is a link between height and the ability to throw a frisbee.

Dribbling - Dribbling is another skill helpful to reading and one I like to include in data collection projects.

Free Throws - If your PE department is cooperative (and their work is critical to developing reading skills in cross-dominant and right brained children!) they might help with data collection for this activity.

Hula Hoop-ing - Timing how long kids can keep a hula hoop going above their knees gathers a different kind of data that is also fun to collect.