Student Thinking #1 – Graphing

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Something I’ve noticed for a while in both my math class and my chemistry classes is this aversion to graphing.  In both cases, the graphs were simple linear relationships, but students will go out of their way to not graph.

I noticed it with my math students in a station activity that I had them work on.  Of the nine stations, three of the stations were ones that required them to graph.  When I reviewed the work papers later, almost all of the students had ignored the directions and simply solved algebraically.  When we began sequences and were working to build rules for either arithmetic or geometric sequences, students still had no desire to graph.  They would happily create a table, but were missing on what kind of relationship there was until they saw it graphically.

In my chemistry class, it became noticeable when there were two consecutive labs that had a graphing component.  One student flat out asked me why we had to graph (though I think the underlying comment was “why do we have to do all this work?”).  One of the questions on the second lab asked them to determine which value of the x-intercept was more accurate: the one from the calculations or the one from the graph.  At least 3/4 of the students said that the graph provided the more accurate answer, and many of those responses came from the students who were vehemently against generating the graph in the first place.

I think what I find the most puzzling is why students have such an aversion to graphing.  In math, of the many methods we discuss regarding solving a system of equations, graphing is certainly the easiest.  In chemistry, graphing your data is often much easier than any of the required calculations, even when you have to create a best-fit line to go with the data.  Perhaps students missed out on the discussion of why we graph data or given equations.  I think it is important that students see the benefit of graphing and that it does tell you something, either about an equation or a given set of data.

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