Beyond Data Collection: Analysis and Identification of Patterns

A study of weather in the elementary grades often includes real data. Whether from a homemade weather station, a newspaper, or a web site, collecting and graphing data is an important component of scientific inquiry. However, we teachers often stop there, failing to devote sufficient instructional (and practice) time to careful and thoughtful analysis of the data our students have collected.

The ability to analyze a data set or graphical representation of data is an essential component of quantitative literacy — the capacity “to be comfortable with numerical data and to use them in meaningful ways, in particular to make well-reasoned decisions” (Manaster 2009, 68). This set of skills is not just limited to math class, nor is it solely the responsibility of a math teacher. Rather, quantitative literacy is an important component of all content areas, and is particularly important in developing a sound understanding of climate science.

All students should have opportunities to analyze their own data as well as data collected and represented by others. In the elementary grades, this might entail looking for patterns or analyzing a graph in terms of the scale or type of graph selected. Students should also be prompted to always consider the meaning of the data and why it is important. These types of reflective activities will build the foundation for more sophisticated concepts in the years to come.


RESOURCES

Analyzing Data
This article from the TeacherVision web site provides background information about analyzing graphs and data as well as guiding questions and practical suggestions for teachers. Use this article to supplement and enhance any lesson involving data collection and analysis.

Quantitative Literacy
This guide from the Middle School Portal 2: Math and Science Pathways project provides an overview of quantitative literacy, background information for teachers, a multitude of resources for classroom use, and the standards of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). While middle school teachers are the primary audience of this guide, elementary teachers will find many of the resources of value as well.


References

Manaster, Alfred B. 2009. Mathematics and numeracy: Mutual reinforcement. In Mathematics and democracy: The case for quantitative literacy, ed. Lynn Steen. Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. http://www.maa.org/ql/067-72.pdf


This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Jessica at beyondpenguins@msteacher.org.

Copyright June 2010 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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