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What's Going On in This Graph?

Every week, the New York Times posts a graph, map, or chart that has appeared in a recent article. The title of the article is removed so that students can think and reason about the story that is being told by the graph. Over the years, they have released many different types of displays for both quantitative and categorical data, such as line graphs, histograms, bar graphs, segmented bar graphs, scatterplots, and many others.

Students are encouraged to figure out "What's Going on in This Graph" by considering the following questions:

  • What do you notice?

  • What do you wonder?

  • What impact does this have on you and your community?

  • What do you think is going on in this graph? Write a headline that captures the graph’s main idea.

Students are invited to share their ideas on the New York Times website with a live moderator on Wednesdays between 9 am and 2 pm EST. On Friday, the New York Times releases a "Reveal" that provides context and additional information about the graph, as well as a list of "Stat Nuggets", which are statistical concepts needed to understand the graph.

How Do I Use This in My Classroom?

We suggest using all four of the following activities, in this order:

1. Have Students Think Individually, Then Discuss in Small Groups

Display the full size graph on the white board and ask students to think individually about what they notice and what they wonder. Then give each small group a printed version of the graph, along with the suggested questions from the New York Times. Allow small groups time to discuss the questions and record their ideas.

Add this week's graph to this Word document and print for students.

2. Have a Whole Class Discussion

Ask for groups to share out their noticings and wonderings. As the teacher, try to paraphrase or summarize what each group shares, but without making any inferences. When appropriate, relate the ideas back to statistical concepts that have already been discussed in class (sampling methods, observational study vs experiment, frequency vs relative frequency, correlation vs causation.)

3. Have Students Share Their Ideas in the New York Times Comments Section

Each group can choose one member to add the ideas from the group to the comments section on What's Going On in This Graph. The group can check back at the end of the class period to see if they get a reply from the live moderator (Wednesdays 9 am to 2 pm EST).

4. Review the Reveal and the Stat Nuggets

On Friday of the same week, go back to the What's Going On in This Graph to find the Reveal and the Stats Nuggets. Share these ideas with your class.

What Are the Benefits for Students?

Most importantly, this activity shows students that statistics and data analysis can help them to better understand their world. The data sets are real and the contexts are relevant. Additionally, this activity allows students to expand their horizons. Often the content represents data for individuals at the state, national, or even the world level.

If there is anything we want for our students to take away from our statistics class, it is the ability to understand "What's Going On in This Graph".

Stats Medic Luke Wilcox will be the live moderator on February 8, 2023!!!

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