Engaging students: Line Graphs

In my capstone class for future secondary math teachers, I ask my students to come up with ideas for engaging their students with different topics in the secondary mathematics curriculum. In other words, the point of the assignment was not to devise a full-blown lesson plan on this topic. Instead, I asked my students to think about three different ways of getting their students interested in the topic in the first place.

I plan to share some of the best of these ideas on this blog (after asking my students’ permission, of course).

This student submission again comes from my former student Tinashe Meki.  His topic, from Pre-Algebra: line graphs.

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How could you as a teacher create an activity or project that involves your topic?

An engaging activity to introduce line graphs is to compare the height of boys v. girls in the classroom. I would pick 6 girls and 6 boys from the class and line each group up separately from shortest to tallest in front of the same board. Then, mark their heights by placing a point above their heads. Connect the points of the height of the boys in one color and the height of the girls in another. After the activity, I would ask students probing question to analyze and compare the data in the graph: Which group had the shortest height? Which group had the tallest height? Which group’s height increased the most? and Which two points has the greatest increase in height?  Then, create a x and y axis to provoke discussion on the naming of the axes.

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How can this topic be used in your students’ future courses in mathematics or science?

Line graphs are the foundation for many other subjects within mathematics. For example, graphing linear equations in Algebra builds concepts of connecting two or more separate points to form a line. The ability to visualize relationship between points further enhances students’ understanding of linear equations. Understanding how to interpret a line graph based on data prepares students to be able to interpret linear equations. Topics such as slope would be easier to introduce to students who understand the concept of the “change in values”. Students would be able differentiate between increasing or decreasing slope. Although a line graph’s main purpose is to compare data, subtle lessons help students understand algebraic equations also.  Students could apply this line graph to slope by plotting different points on a coordinate plane. The students can randomly connect two points and compare the relationship of the lines they have created. They could differentiate how different lines are increasing and decreasing based on their direction. They could also compare the different rates of change between the lines.

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How can technology (YouTube, Khan Academy [khanacademy.org], Vi Hart, Geometers Sketchpad, graphing calculators, etc.) be used to effectively engage students with this topic? Note: It’s not enough to say “such-and-such is a great website”; you need to explain in some detail why it’s a great website.

I open the weather app on my phone every morning after getting ready for class. Prior to this assignment, I never noticed how the predicted weather was displayed on my phone. The app uses a line graph to show the different temperature levels during the day and week. Weather apps and websites show students how line graphs can be used for scientific purposes. An engaging activity could be to observe how line graphs are utilized to predict change in different parts of the United States. To make things more interesting, students can be assigned different cities in the U.S to search on the weather website. Once the students have analyzed the graph, they can take turns sharing interesting trends about their cities temperature line graph.


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