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Why My Students Practice Graphing In Science

Let’s face it.  Students need to practice graphing in science classes throughout the school year.  Despite being taught how to construct a graph in prior grades, I still set aside a class period in the first weeks of the semester to have my students complete our graphing worksheets.  It’s that important.

Students Need Graphing Practice

In almost every unit we cover during the school year, students will be asked to create and analyze data that has been compiled into graphs and charts.  Graphs show up in classroom activities.  Graphs show up in labs.  And graphs show up in assessments.  Sometimes students are asked to graph data that has been given to them in a table while other times they are asked to answer questions or draw a conclusion based on a graph.  

While graphing in science isn’t a new topic for students (they have been taught graphing since elementary school), it is still something that many students are not confident about.  My solution is to “teach it early, and review it often.”  We cover graphing in one of our first lectures and follow it up with a graphing practice worksheet that I have my students work on together. We then complete a fun graphing activity (like an m&m or skittles graphing activity) before moving on to the next part of our introduction to biology unit.  

Reviewing The Types Of Graphs

In biology, we primarily use line graphs, bar graphs, and pie charts.  However, students are sure when to use each one.  In lecture I give my students a few hints that they can lean on when they are turning their data into a graph or chart.  If they are measuring something over time, then they will most likely want to use a line graph.  If they are comparing different objects, a bar graph is probably going to be their best choice.  And if they are looking at percentages or parts of a whole, then they will want to make a pie chart.  In my Graphing Activity Worksheet, students get to practice graphing in science.

Common Graphing In Science Mitakes

As I mentioned before, graphing is an elementary common core standard that students still need to review and practice.  While they have the main ideas of constructing graphs, there are a few common mistakes I see students make every year.  

Each year I review graphing in science with my classes

The first is that students are sure what to write on the x-axis and what to write on the y-axis.  While we use the phrase “y depends on x” to help students remember the dependent variable goes on the y-axis and the independent variable goes on the x-axis, students still struggle to identify which is which.  My solution has been to have my students ask themselves, “which variable did the scientist control when setting up the experiment,” and then place this variable on the x-axis.  With repetition, students figure this out quickly.

The next mistake I see is when students don’t give consistent values to the squares on a graph.  Instead they look at the data and then use whatever values they see to determine how much each square is worth.  Generally, this is solved with a simple reminder that each square must have a uniform value.

Finally, I have found students to struggle when they are asked to plot multiple lines on the same graph.  Part of the time they are unsure how to scale the square values, while other times they confuse the data and inaccurately plot the data points.  My fix for this has been to make sure students construct one line at a time on their graphing worksheets to keep the data organized.

Final thoughts….

While it would be nice if every student who came into my class was an expert in graphing, it’s not going to happen.  So the best course of action is to slow things down early in the year and invest a little time into graphing.  The return on investment for both your students’ grades and their confidence will be well worth it!

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