Digging Deeper into … Representing and Interpreting Data (infants to second class)

Digging Deeper into … Representing and Interpreting Data (infants to second class)

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Data analysis, whether at lower primary, upper primary, or even at a more specialised level of statistics, is essentially the same process:

  • It starts with a question, that doesn’t have an obvious and/or immediate answer. Information is then collected relevant to the question.
  • This collected information or data is represented in a structured way that makes it easier to read.
  • This represented data is then examined and compared (interpreted) in such a way as to be able to make statements about what it reveals and, in turn, to possibly answer the initial question (if the question remains unanswered it may be necessary to re-start the process again, perhaps using different methods).

Thus, every data activity should start with a question, for example:

When choosing a question it is worth appreciating that some questions might not lend themselves to rich answers. Take, for example, the first question above; once the data is collected, and represented, there is not that much scope for interpretation of results other than identifying the most common eye/hair colour and comparing the number of children with one colour as being more/less than another colour. However, other questions might lead to richer answers, with more possibilities to collect further information, to make predictions and to create connections with learning in other areas. Take, for example, the question above about travel; the children could be asked to suggest reasons for the results e.g. can they suggest why they think most children walked/came by car on the day in question, whether weather/season/distance from school was a factor and to suggest how the results might be different on another day/time of year. Even in a very simple way, the children are beginning to appreciate that data analysis has a purpose i.e. to collect, represent and interpret information, so as to answer a question.

From Operation Maths Jr Infs TRB p. 147

Sets and Data

Data is very closely related to sorting and classifying sets:

  • The initial question may focus on a particular set in the classroom e.g. identifying the most common/frequent occurring item in the set of farm animals, the set of buttons in our button box, the shoes that the children are wearing, the nature items collected on the walk etc
  • Information is then collected by sorting and classifying the items in the original set according to the target attribute.
  • This collections of items are represented in a structured way that makes it easier to compare e.g. items put in lines of same type, use cubes or drawings to represent the actual items.
  • This represented data is interpreted to answer the question and to make other statements about  relationships e.g. which group has more, less etc

Thus sorting and classify activities should be viewed as potential springboards into data activities and it is important that the children realise that they can represent and compare the size of the sets within each sort by graphing them.

CPA Approach

Even as the children move into first and second classes, it is important that their data activities continue to follow a CPA approach:

Concrete: Continuing to use real objects initially to sort and classify ) e.g. the number of different colour crayons in a box, the different type of PE equipment in the hall , the different fruit we brought for lunch etc), progressing towards using unifix cubes, blocks, cuisinere rods etc to represent the same data. Indeed, the children themselves could be used at this stage; sort the children into groups according to eye colour, hair colour,  age etc and get them to organise themselves into lines that represent the same criterion. This is turn can be very useful for the children to realise that how they are lined up is crucial to being able to interpret the data easily and correctly. If you have visible tiles/markings as flooring on the classroom/hall/corridor, these can be used to organise the “data” accurately!

The children can build block graphs using cubes or blocks, laid flat on a piece of paper or their Operation Maths MWBs.

Pictorial: using multiple copies of identical images to make pictograms and/or using identical cut out squares/rectangles of paper on which the children draw an image that represents the data as it relates to them (e.g. how I traveled to school today). These can then be collected and organised into lines, so that it is easier to read the data. As a development, identical cut out squares/rectangles of paper of different colours can be used with the children taking the correct colour as it relates to them (e.g. choosing the colour for their eyes/hair colour etc.) while also progressing towards using a specific colour for a specific criterion (“Take a blue square if you walked to school today”). Thus, the children should begin to appreciate the need to label the graph, axes etc so that the meaning of the represented data can be correctly interpreted.

HINT: A common confusion among children when making vertical graphs of any type is that the pictures/blocks start at the top and go down; an understandable misconception when you consider that in most other activities we work from the top down! A simple way to show how vertical graphs are formed, is to demonstrate, using a concrete Connect 4 type game, how the first counter in each column falls to the bottom and subsequent counters in that column build up from there. If you don’t have an actual Connect 4 game in your classroom you could use an interactive type such as this one here

Abstract: the final stage, where the focus is primarily on numbers and/or digits e.g. identifying how many, how many more prefer this than that etc.


Further suggestions:



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