This summer I was looking for ways to help my 8th graders really understand what graphs mean. Not just how to graph a line with a certain slope and y-intercept, but understanding what that line on the graph might actually represent. I came across this concept of a “Graph of the Week”, similar to a popular “Article of the Week” from Kelly Gallagher in language arts. On Kelly Turner’s website she shares several years worth of experience of using graphs of the week with her high school math students. Immediately intrigued, I spent time digging into her website. It turned into a really great way to get students in my class grappling with math and making sense of data. I’m so excited to share my “discovery” and reflections on using the Graph of the Week so far!
Discovering the Graph of the Week
One frustration for me last year was that I felt like students would get pretty good at graphing a line, finding the slope, and generally “doing the math”. But they didn’t seem to understand what these graphs, equations, and tables really meant. I noticed this when they didn’t know if answers were reasonable, or when they couldn’t talk about the graph beyond what they thought the answer was and why. I knew that I needed to get them thinking more deeply about these graphs and the stories they tell so that the numbers and “math” would mean more. I wanted to find complex problems that students could spend some significant time with, basically doing more with fewer problems.
As I read her website, my eyes lit up when I saw Kelly Turner’s comment that the graph of the week assignment helps her students “become lifelong critical and analytical thinkers.” Yes, exactly!
As I continued reading, other benefits caught my eye. “Improve academic literacy”- yep, my students need that. “Develop students Habits of Mind”- that fits right in with our school wide theme for the year of thinking like a scholar, so that sounds like a good fit too. But perhaps the benefit that stood out the most to me was the idea that using the Graph of the Week increases the relevance of the math they’re studying by “link[ing] mathematics to real-world situations”
Adapting the Graph of the Week
I loved the idea and the graphs that she’d used, but I knew I needed a bit more scaffolding for my students. So, I adapted the written response to meet the needs of my 8th graders. Here are the components done over several days I ended up with:
1st- Students look at the graph and talk about it. I want to make sure students understand the general parameters of the graph with the following questions: What is the topic of this graph? What does the x-axis represent? What does the y-axis represent? What are some observations you can make based on this graph?
2nd- Contextualize it. Students build and connect to their background knowledge. They brainstorm questions someone could have based on the graph. I want to make sure they know where this “fits” in the world.
3rd- Pre writing. Students generate a claim and evidence about the graph. I’ve noticed that students struggle with slowing down and doing this step. They want to skip right to completing their paragraph, but this step is really important for them to get clear on before they do any more writing.
4th- Write a paragraph to analyze this graph. Students introduce what the graph is about, make a claim about the graph, support their claim with evidence from the graph, and make a prediction about the future.
Where to find the graphs
Kelly Turner shares her weekly graph each week on her website and has an archive of many from previous weeks. Since I wanted to use a different format, I followed her recommendations on where to find graphs. My favorite graphs were at Business Insider’s Chart of the Day. The site was easy to use and the graphs were interesting and relevant. We used one charting the volume of tablets shipped to customers. Another graph compared the prices of Nike’s Lebrons and Air Jordans. This upcoming week we’ll be taking a look at average hourly earnings. With a great range of relevant topics, this approach helps students understand the range of information presented in graph form.
Getting started with the Graph of the Week
The first week with the Graph of the Week, we did every single piece together. I wanted to model the thinking for every step. I needed to really be sure they were clear on what exactly we were doing with this assignment. This was definitely time well spent!
After a few weeks working with the Graph of the Week, a few things have stood out to me. Here are the highlights:
- For some students it’s tough to limit their responses to the data in the graph itself. For example, the first graph we worked with examined how the cost of Nike’s Lebron James shoes and Michael Jordan shoes have changed over time. One student exclaimed that “Nobody wears Lebrons!” It opened up a great conversation about looking at what the data says about that. We decided that if a shoe is able to sell for $220, then there must be somebody buying it! I had to keep prompting students to be sure they could support any claims with the evidence in the graph, not their own experience.
- Asking questions about the graphs leads to great conversations and gives students an opportunity to research. When we looked at the graph of tablets being shipped, we asked the question, “Why are more tablets shipped in the fourth quarter of the year?” Students quickly made an inference that this increase was likely due to Christmas shopping and Black Friday. It was pretty cool to see them analyzing and making these kinds of connections!
- Letting students discuss the graphs in small groups leads to great conversations. When all students are accountable for talking, there is great math talk and really interesting insights.
So what do you think? Are you going to give the graph of the week a shot in your classroom? We’d love to hear your thoughts about the Graph of the Week. The template I’m using in my class is available now at Idea Galaxy on Teachers Pay Teachers as a freebie. Just add a graph and you are ready to go!