It's been three years since the New York Times partnered with the American Statistical Association to bring "What's Going on in this Graph?" to teachers and students. The premise is simple, every week during the school year they publish a graph asking students to think about it and discuss their observations whether on the site itself or on Desmos. A week later, they have a reveal, with more information and highlights from the moderation.
I started using the activity with my 8th grade Science and Engineering classes last year, as I struggled to teach them to interpret motion graphs. What I was looking at at the time, was students who jumped to conclusions without stopping to actually look at axes or units, or choosing to bar graphs over line graphs simply because they were more familiar. I also, at the time, was invested in having students create infographics for projects, but again, they were doing so without actually looking or thinking about why one choice was better than another, or even worse, Googling for ready-made ones and pasting them without realizing that what they had included actually contradicted or was completely irrelevant to the message they were trying to send. The need was obvious - How do I help students acquire the skills they need to analyze graphs and charts.
During the first few months of using them, I presented the graph posted by the NYT that week and used their prompt:
- What do you notice?
- What do you wonder?
- What's going on?
This was fine except for one little thing, they started looking at the comments posted for "correct" answers or as a guide for what to write in their response to me. While it did force them to at least open and read the comments, they were still taking that short-cut of having someone else do the thinking and noticing. So I started adding some other questions that would require the act of reading the graph in order to answer them. These questions were not necessarily of a very high DOK, but rather of the "actually look at the graph" type. Things like
- "What is the military spending worldwide presented on the graph?" for this installment
- "Which destination seems to be the most popular for Thanksgiving Travel?" for this one
- "Describe how the author represents data in the graphic."
These types of questions are always presented before the analysis questions and have served us well to help students look at the graphs before moving on to the deeper analysis posed by:
- What's going on in this graph? (i.e. what would be an accurate conclusion that can be supported by this graph). To answer this question use the CER framework
- Write a >140 character Tweet that could accompany the sharing of the graph. Your response must include a relevant hashtag.
By now, I have a bundle of 29 such activities in the GoFormative library. Most of which come from the weekly NYT publishing, with a couple added from other sources due to my students' interest in a topic. The activity for me is weekly and takes up about 30 minutes of class time. Since many of them are related to my content it ends up supporting not only the acquisition of the skills for interpreting graphs espoused in the CCSS and NGSS but also addressing ISTE standards for students, making the activity an absolute win.