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Graphing in the Science Classroom

Is this becoming a lost skill?

How important is the skill of graphing to our modern day science classrooms?  I don't mean completing a graph using Excel or with a graphing calculator.  I am talking about handing the student a piece of graph paper and some colored pencils and asking them to graph the data they just obtained from a lab activity.

Just so you know where I am going with this before you keep reading, I am a firm believer in the old fashioned way.  We are making a mistake if we don't teach our students this very important skill.  In all of my science classes (biology, chemistry and AP biology) I spend some time during the first few days of school teaching graphing, data representation and data analysis.  I have done this every year I have taught school.  We are very fortunate at our school to have some pretty cool technology.  I have probeware and graphing calculators in my lab.  I love using the technology and so do the students, but.....  I have noticed that when the probe records all the data, sends it to the calculator and the student is passive in the lab process, they do not come away from the activity with the same level of comprehension.  

There is just something about collecting the data yourself with a thermometer or a ph meter, putting the data in a data table, and plotting the data on a graph that causes the neurons to connect.  I can see the light bulbs coming on and the satisfied look on the faces of my students as they realize, "This lab has a point, and I get it!"

I believe that graphing, and other forms of data representation,  is one of the most important science skills that we can teach our students.  Time saving devices (computers, probeware, graphing calculators) have their benefits, but having the students put their pencils to the paper may be one of THE MOST effective ways of insuring student understanding and comprehension.  In a nutshell, the reasons old fashioned graphing is so very important are:

Will the student have to draw a graph on the ACT or SAT?  No, they won't. But they will definitely have to read and interpret graphs!  And if the student is proficient in the graphing process, the reading of a graph on a standardized test will be a snap!

Will the student have to draw a graph on the AP Biology, Chemistry or Physics exams?  YES!  I have not taught AP Chem or Physics, but graphing on the AP Biology exam has been a constant occurrence in the essay portion of the exam.

Now, do not come away from this thinking that I only use colored pencils in my lab.  The technology is important.  I love using my probeware and graphing calculators.  But before I put the technology in the hands of my students, I first make sure that they have a good foundation in the basics of graphing, constructing data tables, and analysis of data.  

In my TpT store you find several products on graphing and analyzing data.  I use these in my own classroom.... each and every year!

Be sure to grab this graphing freebie!  Click here for Free Graphing and Data Analysis Worksheet

In conclusion, remember that these are called "basic skills" for a reason.  They are important.  They matter.  And they make our students competent critical thinkers and problem solvers.

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