Creative Graphing Ideas

A MiddleWeb Classic

This MiddleWeb Classic appeared on at our site on 7/27/98. It’s been viewed thousands of times since then, so we’re sharing it here. Outdated links have been removed. Outdated ideas, if any, remain. Smile. (2012)

Creative Ways to Teach Graphing

(from Internet e-mail – author unknown)

QUESTION: I am looking for some creative ways to teach graphs (line, bar, pie,etc.). If anyone has any ideas please let me know. Thanks.

ANSWER: Use data that has a deeper purpose

Key here is that the graphs have a purpose, not just for practice. I have participated in cross curricular projects that use graphs, thus teaching the purpose and function of the graph. Talk to the other teachers and see what data they have to analyze and then help them with their work.

One of the best programs I have seen was where the math teacher required the students to analyze the costs, losses, and other factors involved in the continuation of the Civil War for either side and then the students had to produce a report to either Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis on the advisability of continuing the war for another year, complete with three types of graphs used appropriately.

Another good source of data is always the science class since they usually do more graphing than math anyway.

Gathering data and recycling too!

I used a “recycling” project to do some elaborate graphs in science last year. I had the kids collect their recyclable plastics for a week…wanted them to find the numbers and types of plastic (1-7). Each kid had to present a written data collection sheet of how many of each number he or she had collected. It then became a class analysis with all kinds of ways of sorting the data. We found how many containers we had, how many of each type, what proportion of each type, which of my four classes did the best job, which class participated the best, etc. We made lots of cool graphs and they showed some interesting things. Also got a lot of stuff to the recycling center!

I wanted to have them bring it in to weigh it, too, but the astonishing amount of trash made my teammates quiver and the school janitor give it a thumbs down. I have heard of teachers who did that, though, and it sounded like a neat idea to reinforce the “SpaceShip Earth” concept. Maybe this year, eh?

NCTM has done a good video on the topic

There is a video called “Fill ‘er Up” published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and given to those teachers participating in the PBS Mathline project. (MiddleWeb note: This video may be on the internet in a format you can access – try searching with Google. Here is the lesson plan.)

Briefly the students create line graphs showing the height of water if a bottle as a function of the number of scoops. They then have to predict the graph based on the shape of the bottle and vice versa predict the shape of the bottle based on the graph. It is a good lesson with hands-on experience and a high interest level among the 6-8 graders that have done it in our district.

(MiddleWeb note: Here’s a more recent Fill ‘er Up activity from NCTM)

Ask your kids what they’re interested in studying

Anytime I want to work with graphs, I generally ask the kids what they are interested in studying. This gives them more ownership. In addition, there is a series put out by Dale Seymour called Quantitative Literacy Series has some interesting data that my students have enjoyed. (MiddleWeb note: Exploring Data is still in print. Exploring Measurements is available through used book dealers.)

Another option is to ask the other teachers what they are studying and then ask the students to generate some “good” questions that might go along with what they are studying in another class.

Graphing heart rates

I do a two-day project with 7th graders where kids graph their heart rates.

Day 1: Record their heart rate at rest. (Use rates, etc). Then exercise for several minutes (jump rope, etc) and immediately measure the heart rate. Then take the heart rate each minute for 10 minutes. If they work in pairs – one timekeeping for the other, this will take most of a period.

Day 2: Make a spreadsheet template and have them record their data on the spreadsheet. Then use the graphing feature of most spreadsheets and graph the results. This combines spreadsheets, graphing, rates and even integrates with health or PE.

Analyzing mortality data — in your local cemetery

Hopefully this is not too morbid of an idea for you. I use it to reinforce graphing skills at the same time that we discuss issues related to population growth.

We monitor the obituaries in the paper for a while, collecting data on age and gender of the recently deceased. Then we take a walking field trip to the local cemetery and collect data on age and gender of anyone who died more than 50 years ago. (I usually divide the cemetery by letters of alphabet so that we don’t only get the same people over and over). When we get back, we graph and analyze the data comparing current data with the 50 year old data which leads to a rich discussion of differences in age expectancies and why.

You need a cemetery nearby and students who will be respectful while visiting it.


Some Contemporary Resources (2012)

Middle School Portal – Quantitative Literacy (awesome – see other math guides)

TeacherVision – Analyzing Data

Teaching Quantitative Literacy (Geosciences) – good overview


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