Making Sense of Graphs

OR Students with Disabilities Investigating Social Justice Issues in Math Class

Graphs are important. Really important. Adults are often asked to make sense of graphs in order to make important decisions. The weather, graphs. At work, graphs. Presidential election, graphs. The interpretation and analysis of graphs is just as important as their creation. And as the election nears, our department identified graph and data analysis as a major point of focus for our students, especially when magazines and newspapers look like this…

Blank guides

Courtesy of The Guardian circa 2012 (

So in an effort to help our student make sense of the graphs they see in their daily lives, we devised what follows. The guiding resources for our project were:

  1. Standards for Mathematical Practice
  2. Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers
  3. Making Sense of Graphs: Critical Factors Influencing Comprehension and Instructional Implications
  4. NCTM Principles and Standards for School Mathematics
  5. The GAISE Report

Standards for Mathematical Practice

  • Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  • Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  • Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
  • But really all of them…

Rethinking Mathematics

  • Students can recognize the power of mathematics as an essential analytical tool to understand and potentially change the world, rather than merely regarding math as a collection of disconnected rules to be rotely memorized and regurgitated.
  • Students can deepen their understanding of important social issues, such as racism and sexism, as well as ecology and social class.
  • Students can connect math with their own cultural and community histories and can appreciate the contributions that various cultures and peoples have made to mathematics.
  • Students can understand their own power as active citizens in building a democratic society and become equipped to play a more active role in that society.
  • Students can become more motivated to learn important mathematics.

Making Sense of Graphs

The reasons for using graphs are commonly divided into two classes: analysis and communication (Kosslyn, 1985). Graphs used for data analysis function as discovery tools at the early stages of data analysis when the student is expected to make sense of the data; often alternative plots for the same data set are explored. Graphs used for purposes of analysis at this stage “are predominantly tools for the detection of important or unusual features in the data” (Spence & Lewandowsky,1990, p. 20). A good pictorial display of data “forces us to notice what we never expected to see” (Tukey, 1977, p. vi).

NCTM Principles and Standards for School Mathematics

  • Formulate questions that can be addressed with data and collect, organize, and display relevant data to answer them.
  • Develop and evaluate inferences and predictions that are based on data.

GAISE Report

In an effort to allow our students to engage in a truly inquiry-based project, the parameters were intentionally loose. We used the Framework Model developed by AMSTAT (adapted below).

Framework for Statistical Inquiry

To introduce the idea of Global Issues we used the example of clean water shortages around the world via this Matt Damon video. We also related it to social studies vocabulary terms like racism, poverty, transgender, sexual orientation, and the environment. The students then chose an issue of interest and were guided through the following process:

  1. Identify a problem and propose a solution for a Global Issue of your choice.
  2. Use Google Forms and Sheets to ask a question and collect, organize, and display data relevant to your Global Issue.
  3. Find graphs, through research, that further help prove your point.
  4. Make a Google Slides presentation to present your conclusion to the school community.

The Global Issues chosen in our class included: racism in the police force, the safety of people who are transgender, bullying of people who are LGBTQ, low-flow toilets for water conservation, drone strikes in war, same-sex marriage, and homelessness.

But, that’s enough of me, let’s hear from the students…

Racism in the Police Force

Transgender Issue

Drones in Wars and Armies

This is a folder containing the guiding documents we used through the project. Let me know what we can improve!

What was missing? For the most part, the application of their targeted computational goals. Which leads to my question. When students have been working on K-5 computational goals for their entire school career, should that preclude their work on inquiry projects such as this that can lead in many different directions?

2 thoughts on “Making Sense of Graphs

  1. Pingback: Accessibility & Mathematics | The Learning Kaleidoscope

  2. Pingback: An Inch Wide and An Inch Deep: A Call To Action | The Learning Kaleidoscope

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