Data collection and representation

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This is an exceptional collection of resources illustrating the parts of the inquiry process related to collecting, organizing, and displaying data. What’s even more remarkable is that all of the activities here were used with some of our youngest students!
I must admit I was intrigued by the title of No Duck Left Behind. Students and teachers partnered with wildlife biologists to study patterns and trends in the migration of ducks found in local wetlands. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every classroom had a mentor from the “real world” to share their experiences and expertise! You may not have access to similar projects where you live, so I’ll put in a plug for the Citizen Science projects sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, where people from all over North America contribute their observations. These observations are used by scientists, but they can also be queried by the participants. The projects include suggestions for classrooms. The guest editorial Helping Young Learners MakeSense of Data: A 21st-Century Capability refers to collecting data from bird feeders – similar to Cornell Lab’s Project Feederwatch and Birdsleuth.

In the problem-based learning activity Where Does Our Food Come From?, the students (with guidance from the teacher) collected data to investigate their own question. The article includes a rubric that could be adapted for other projects I suspect that older students could learn from this activity, too. (Related SciLinks: Food Chains, Plants as Food)
I’ve done a lot of workshops with teachers on the topic of data analysis, so when I saw the title What’s the Best Way to Represent Data?, my initial thought as I waited for the article to download was—it depends. And that’s the point that Bill Robertson makes in this month’s Science 101 column, by showing how the same data can be graphed appropriately and inappropriately. I’m adding a copy to the resources I share with teachers! Another resource I like to share is Create-a-graph from National Center for Educational Statistics.  But what can be learned from a graph depends on the quality of the data. Measure Lines>describes an inquiry project that incorporates measure lines to help students represent and interpret their data.
Wild About Data has two basic activities to introduce students to graphing, with references to relevant trade books. Recording Data With Young Children has a lesson idea to introduce the concept to our youngest students. From “Bell Work” to Learning is another article on graphing. The author illustrates how she carved out extra learning time each day by switching from busywork to a question-survey-graph-discuss activity each morning. Her suggestions for implementation are very helpful, and this idea could be used as a bell-ringer at any grade level.
Our school bell schedules sometimes reinforce the idea that science happens in neat, 40-minute events. Using an ongoing investigation shows students how some questions need to be studied over a longer period of time. Shadows That Enlighten is an example of an ongoing study (and I like the photo of the groundhog, too) that integrates measurement, seasonal changes, journaling, and graphing. (Related SciLinks: Seasons) NSTA’s Astronomy with a Stick is a set of activities related to studying changes in daylight hours and the position of the sun.
A colleague of mine once said that her ninth-grade students weren’t mature enough for inquiry-based activities. I wish she would read Invasion Scientists, which describes a project in which first-graders studied invasive species of plants near their school in Alaska. The examples of student work show that even these young students can understand concepts related to collecting and graphing data, given the appropriate scaffolding and guidance.  (Related SciLinks: Invasive Species)
Once again, I’m blown away by how creative teachers work with younger students to introduce them to inquiry processes. I hope that the students have the opportunity to expand and refine  their skills!
And check out more Connections for this issue. Even if the article does not quite fit with your lesson agenda, there are ideas for handouts, background information sheets, data sheets, rubrics, and other resources.

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