Analyzing and Interpreting Data – How to Teach Science Practices

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Analyzing and interpreting data are important science practices. Teach kids to measure, compute, compare, use tables and create graphs. Then they can quantify their experiments.

Mr. Grow Teaches Analyzing and Interpreting Data

Our favorite fifth grade teacher sat at the side table with his mentor. “I’m working to include the NGSS science practices in my labs,” Mr. Grow said. “We’ve already discussed asking questions, using models, and planning investigations. Next up, analyzing and interpreting data.”

As he spoke, he looked at the document. “Let me summarize what the science practices say that third, fourth, and fifth grade kids should do:

  • Introduce quantitative approaches.
  • Conduct multiple trials of qualitative observations.
  • Use digital tools when feasible.
  • Represent data in tables and graphs. Ask kids to look for patterns.
  • Analyze and interpret data to make sense of phenomena. Use logical reasoning, math, or computation.
  • Compare and contrast.”

Ms. Sneed nodded. “So you want to add quantitative features to your labs.”

“Yep. And I think I found a great one for our next matter activity.”

After shuffling through some papers, he pulled out a stapled set. “This lab explores conservation of mass. In it, kids use a balance scale to measure affects of physical and chemical changes.”

Measure for a Quantitative Approach

“Ah,” said Ms. Sneed, “in my opinion, this lab is off to a good start. First, it asks kids to measure. Obviously, this provides numbers to crunch. But it also teaches critical measurement skills.”

“Okay,” Mr. Grow responded. “Using a balance scale lets us quantify mass. What other ways can kids generate numbers?”

Without missing a beat, Ms. Sneed grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil. “Well,” she said, smiling, “on a super simple scale, counting generates numbers.”

As the two teachers continued their discussion, Ms. Sneed listed some ways to measure in science. Beside them, she also wrote what they measure, as well as the basic units:

  • Counting – how many
  • Ruler or meter stick – length (meters)
  • Graduated cylinder – volume (liters)
  • Balance scale – mass (grams)
  • Clock or stopwatch – time (minutes)
  • Protractor – angles (degrees)
  • Thermometer – temperature (degrees Celsius)
  • Spring scale – force (newtons)

Mr. Grow looked at the list thoughtfully. “In the future, I’ll look for labs that include these measurement tools.”

“Yes, that will give your students numbers needed for analyzing and interpreting data.”

When analyzing and interpreting data, begin with measurement. It gives kids the numbers they need to crunch.
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Compute When Analyzing Data

“Back to this conservation of mass lab,” Mr. Grow said.

Again, Ms. Sneed nodded. “Tell me all about it.”

“First, kids mass five crackers. After crushing them, they mass again. You can see that in this top section,” he said.

“Second, they determine the mass of a graduated cylinder. They pour ten milliliters of sugar into it.”

“Hey,” Ms. Sneed interrupted, “another measurement tool! In this lab, kids measure mass and volume.”

Mr. Grow chuckled. “Great! But I was going to say something else.” He pointed to the second section. “Here, they need to subtract. That allows them to find the mass of the sugar. “You can see that they need to subtract again here,” he pointed. “And at the bottom, they must add.”

“Right. I get what you’re saying. “On this page, kids compute when analyzing data. Very important.”

Add more math to your science labs! Ask kids to add, subtract, multiply, and divide.

Compare and Contrast When Interpreting Data

Mr. Grow flipped to the next page. “Look at this bottom section,” he said. “At the end of this series of experiments, kids draw conclusions. To do this, they circle whether the masses before and after the change are the same or different. In other words, they compare and contrast. That’s one of the things the NGSS science practices ask kids to do too.”

“Sure,” said Ms. Sneed. “Comparing and contrasting is essential to interpreting data.”

One way to interpret data is to compare and contrast. Here, kids circle whether masses after physical changes were the same or different. This allows them to establish the law of conservation of mass.

Use Tables to Organize Numbers

Now Mr. Grow flipped to the next page. “In this section of the lab, kids do similar experiments. However, these involve chemical changes.

“It’s actually pretty cool. First, they measure 20 milliliters of baking soda into a baggie. Second, they measure 20 milliliters of vinegar into a small cup. Third, they place the cup int the baggie and seal it. Finally, they mass the entire system.”

“I think I know where you’re going with this,” said Ms. Sneed, smiling.

“Yep. Keeping the bag sealed, they dump the vinegar into the baking soda. Voila! A chemical change.”

“With lots of bubbling and fizzing!”

Mr. Grow nodded and pointed at the bottom section of the lab sheet. “Next, they repeat the whole thing with an open baggie.”

Ms. Sneed’s eyes lit up. “Brilliant! Now kids can compare what happens in closed and open systems.”

“Right. And this lets them see that the law of conservation of mass only works in closed systems.”

Mr. Grow pointed to the sheet again. “Here, as we did on the other pages, we find tables.”

“Another essential science practice for analyzing and interpreting data!”

Tables are a scientist's friend! Use them to organize numbers before crunching them.

Create Graphs When Interpreting Data

Finally, Mr. Grow flipped to the last page. Then he winked at Ms. Sneed. “There you go! On this page, kids graph the changes in open and closed systems. On this first bar graph, they indicate the mass of the open baggie before and after the chemical change. And on this second one, they graph the same thing for the closed baggie.”

“Wow,” said Ms. Sneed, “this lab has everything you need for analyzing and interpreting data. In addition to measuring, computing, comparing, and using tables, kids also create graphs. You’re right! It’s a winner!”

Graphs of all kinds help kids interpret data.

Enjoy Teaching Kids to Analyze and Interpret Data

A few weeks later, Ms. Sneed stopped by Mr. Grow’s classroom. “What have we here?” she asked.

Six paper plates sat on the side table. On each, Ms. Sneed saw a whole apple, shriveled peeled apple, and brown sliced apple.

“Oh, just another data analysis lab.” Mr. Grow smiled. “Actually, my kids have been measuring the mass of each apple each day. Then, of course, they record the numbers on tables. Today, they’ll wrap it all up. Then they can graph the changes.”

The new teacher’s eyes shone. “I began using these experiments to meet science standards. But then I realized that they actually make me enjoy teaching – even more.”

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