Lowering the bar.

Last night, I told my 5 year old daughter that we were going to have to go vote today.
"But I already voted, Mommy!" she replied.
"You did? Who did you vote for?"
" For the one who begins with the letter (x)".
"Yeah!" She holds her arms out, hands flat, one arm higher then the other. "If he gets more votes that the bar will look like this. But if the other one gets more votes..." she switches the heights of her arms, reversing them "then the bars will look like this. And if it looks like this," she puts her hands even with each other, "then that means they got the same votes."

Hm. My 5 year old understands bar graphs better then some of my freshmen in college.

I feel like I've posted about this before, but I can't see where, so I probably just meant to. I've been grading papers, still and again, and I am constantly amazed at the quality of some of the work. Or, should I say, lack thereof? Shouldn't a freshman in college know that the x- axis has to be in numerical order? 1 comes before 2, and 2 comes before 3. My sister, who teaches elementary school, tells me that her third graders know this basic rule. And if that isn't bad enough, it is often painfully clear that they don't read their own work. I understand that these students don't know how to use excel, yet, but if they would just look at the chart after they plot it, they would immediately see that it is wrong.

I've gotten graphs that are sideways, upside down, the wrong data, or completely lacking any data. I've told them to make an XY scatter graph, and I get a bar graph. And vice versa. I've told them to put their variables on each axis, and instead I get random numbers on the axis. Forget about actually labeling the axis or including a descriptive title. Then, I read their discussion where they supposedly interpret the graph, and the two don't correlate. I'll see that A is higher then B- in the table of results. The graph is uninterpretable. They conclude that their hypothesis was supported because B was higher then A. This just further illustrates how useful a good graph can be, when done properly. So why is this so difficult to understand? Am I just setting my expectations too high?


Lisa said...

I don't think your expectations are too high. I think that your students either don't know how to do a proper graph (astonishing really) or they just don't care. Frustrating either way I'd say!