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The Secrets of Developing Graphing Skills


Do your students build towers in the block center or line up silverware in the kitchen area of your classroom? Do they group like colored markers on a mat when coloring or raise their hands to vote? Then they are demonstrating early graphing skills. Here are some important little-known secrets about teaching graphing skills!

*Grab our Graphing and Measurement Activities for Pre-K & Kindergarten for tons of hands-on, easy-prep learning fun!

Are your students demonstrating an interest in early graphing skills? Here are some important secrets about teaching graphing skills!

The Secrets of Teaching Graphing Skills

Teaching math is an enormous task, and with the new changes in adopted state standards, the bar for teachers has risen even higher. That’s because there is a lot that goes into teaching math. It’s comprehensive and systematic.

Mathematicians indicate there are five primary disciplines of math that should be taught, which are as follows:

  • number sense – the development of a deep understanding of numbers and the number system, to compose and decompose numbers and understand their various relationships
  • algebra – the understanding of patterns and relationships, including sorting and categorizing
  • geometry – the understanding of spatial relationships, prepositional terms, and the properties of two and three-dimensional shapes
  • measurement – the ability to make comparisons and order, understanding measurable attributes
  • data analysis and probability – understanding data as a means of conveying organized information and understanding that certain variables affect data

Exclude one of those components and children experience unnecessary difficulty in learning math.

This is the final installment of our series on the five disciplines of math.

What Are Graphing Skills?

First off, the final discipline of math includes much more than just graphing. Graphing falls under the “data analysis and probability” discipline of math. It includes estimation and all forms of organizing and recording mathematical information.

Data analysis and probability include these skills:

  • measurement of data
  • use of appropriate materials to analyze data
  • predicative use of data (probability)
  • beginning concepts of probability including estimation

As do all the other strands of mathematics, the study of graphs provides a foundation for more advanced data analysis concepts that will be explored and learned in the later years.

Why is Data Analysis so Important?

Children who have adequate data analysis skills also tend to be better at:

  • organizing information
  • comparing concepts among groups
  • general problem solving

This is not to say that these skills cannot be developed by other methods, especially within math, but rather to say that in elementary school, learning about graphing, estimating, and basic probability certainly helps develop those skills.

But… Teaching Graphing Can Be Hard

The ability to read a graph doesn’t come naturally to all students, but like many concepts in math, needs to be taught in authentic instruction. Organizing and recording data, such as that in a graph, is entirely dependent on a child’s sorting skills (algebra strand).

If a child is struggling to understand graphing, try these simple teaching tips:

  • go back to the beginning to master sorting skills
  • offer authentic experiences in graphing, such as class opinions (chocolate or vanilla)
  • wait for mastery in simple graphing tasks before introducing more complex tasks
  • begin with pictographs, then bar graphs, then move to pie graphs

How Are Graphing Skills Developed?

Graphing and other data analysis skills are developed much earlier than teachers might think. As children interact with their environment, as early as preschool, they are receiving information in raw data form, and naturally analyze it with their senses. At this stage in development, children organize data purely for enjoyment or stimulation, rather than utility. (Think of a preschooler or kindergartener lining up sets of cars in the block center, or maybe even grouping them by colors.)

As young children grow, their opinions develop more fully and they become more interested in their peers’ assessments of ideas. They enjoy voting, and graphing is a natural way to record votes. Many classes begin their learning with a question of the day, some as simple as, “Will you have hot lunch today?” or “Which animal is your favorite?” or even, “Do you think it will rain today?”

What Are Some Tips for Teaching Graphing?

For success in teaching graphing and other data analysis skills, try some of these tips:

  • Provide authentic and real-life experience as often as possible.
  • Identify data by using multiple examples (graphing, tallies, counting marbles in a jar, etc.).
  • Encourage students to talk about math and explain their thinking, even if their answer is wrong.
  • Use mathematical language in all areas of learning. (ie: If you’re wearing a red shirt, come line up next to someone wearing a blue shirt.)
  • Compare real life data examples (graphing personal activities like what was played at recess, filling in tracking sheets for progress).
  • Allow for practice of reading graphs in addition to creating graphs, and lots of it.
  • Provide manipulatives for problem solving, rather than pencils and paper.
  • Allow time for children to compare their work and work with others.
  • Ask leading questions when teaching.

*Guest post by Sarah from Stay at Home Educator

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