A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to hear Brian Bushart (@bstockus) and Regina Payne (@reginarocks) talk about Numberless Word Problems at NCTM in San Antonio. Brian and Regina left me with lots of ideas to think about, and one I’ve started working on already is numberless graphs. By the way, Brian blogged about this idea and I found that post to be a really helpful starting place when trying to figure out how to do this.
I happened to have a planning meeting with 4th grade teachers coming up right after NCTM in which we were planning a unit on data, so I thought I’d try this routine out with them. (By the way, I called it Notice and Wonder Graphs because it seems to be about more than being “numberless” to me.) This was the first image I showed teachers. I asked them:
What do you notice? What do you wonder?
Here’s what they said:
“I think there are two groups being compared.”
“It looks like the difference between the dark and light green are shrinking over time.”
“The third pair of bars looks different that the first two.”
“What do the numbers on the bars represent?”
“Do the dark green and light green go together?”
“Are the same two things being compared each time with each pair of bars?”
Then I revealed a little more information with this image.
I asked “What do you notice and wonder now?” “How does the new information change your thinking?”
“Are three different things/categories being compared? Or is the same thing being compared over three different times?”
“Are the numbers percents? Why don’t the three pairs of bars add up to the same number? Why don’t they add to 100?”
“Is this graph based on a survey question?”
Next I revealed the title of the graph.
Again, I asked “What do you notice and wonder? How does the new information change your thinking?” (What a beautiful routine for practicing revising your thinking, right?) and “Considering the title of the graph, what do you think the x-axis labels might be?”
The teachers thought the title was referring to the third pair of bars, considering 53% is close to half. However we all agreed that “More than half” could apply to the 84% or the 82% as well.
Finally, it was time for the big reveal!
“What surprises you? What are you still wondering? What questions might you ask about this graph?” I asked.
Teachers still wondered why the first two sets of bars adds to 96% but the third adds to 94%. We decided that some people were so disgusted by the idea of pineapple on pizza they refused to even answer the question.
I love this routine for many of the reasons that I love Brian’s numberless word problems–it slows the thinking down and focuses on sense-making rather than answer-getting.
But I also love it because it brings out the storytelling aspect of data. So often in school (especially elementary school!) we analyze fake data. Or, perhaps worse, we create the same “What is your favorite ice cream flavor?” graph year after year after year for no apparent purpose.
I’ve decided to make it a goal to think more about data as storytelling, data as a way to investigate the world, and data as a tool for action. In my next two posts (YES, people! I’m firing the ole blog back up again!) I’m going to delve into the idea that we can use data to discuss social justice ideas and critical literacy at the elementary level. I’m just dipping my toe into this waters, but I’m really excited about it!
Have you tried this routine with students or teachers? I’d love to hear more about your experiences.