Graphing Research on Inquiry with Data in Science

GRIDS undertakes a comprehensive program to address the need for improved graph comprehension.

The project investigates strategies to improve middle school students’ science learning by focusing on student ability to interpret and use graphs., and develops supports for teachers to guide students in using graphs to deepen understanding, and to develop agency and identity as science learners.

In middle school math, students typically graph only linear functions. They rarely encounter the features of graphs common in science, such as units, scientific notation, non-integer values, noise, oscillations, and exponentials. Often students are left to learn science without recourse to this key tool for learning and doing science, and better understanding complex topics.

In the GRIDS project, we create, study and disseminate technology-based assessments, technologies that aid graph interpretation, instructional designs, professional development, and learning materials. We provide on-line graphing tools for teachers to teach science and students to learn science.

Research Questions:

  1. What do middle school students know about constructing and interpreting graphs of science concepts and how does this develop over time?
  2. How can we design instruction that enables students to link graphing and science disciplinary knowledge and gain lifelong skills for understanding complex scientific phenomena?
  3. How can Graph-Science Knowledge Integration (KI) in independent student projects promote deeper understanding and student identity as science learners?

Proposed GRIDS technologies:

  1. Graph Creator

    Extending WISE ability to collect manually entered data in tables and then generate graphs from that data (as illustrated in Graphing Stories), we will build graphing features that facilitate robust expression of student ideas. We will enhance open source graphing libraries (including touch-based tools) to allow students to easily plot various curve types, resize graphs, change scales, and swap variables. Enhancements will allow the simultaneous display of graphs and corresponding data, include interactive links among representations so that changes to one format will update corresponding formats in real-time. We will also add support for new data sources (e.g., external probes or physical sensors, other students’ data, simulations or models).

  2. Graph Analyzer

    Building on our pilot studies will be a suite of student tools for graph analysis and interpretation. In the Graphing Stories pilot study, students generated prediction graphs of the motion described in a story. To test their predictions, they observed animated agents enacting the events described in their graphs. We will extend the success of this approach with authoring tools that facilitate similar graph visualization in different contexts, support non-linear motion trajectories, and provide multiple forms of feedback. Currently, WISE allows students to analyze and annotate author-provided static images and animated .gif files. Continued development of this tool will allow students to also annotate critical features of interactive graphs. To help students interpret noisy data we will provide curve-fitting tools.

  3. GRIDS Guide

    Student constructed graphs may be automatically assessed for presence or absence of specific spatial features (e.g. line with a positive slope). We will implement a simple authoring system (for curriculum designers) to facilitate the production of rubrics that evaluate student graphs according to conceptually significant spatial criteria. Real-time application of these rubrics will inform teachers and researchers of student progress and facilitate automated student guidance. Guidance may include animations, text-based annotations on the graph, highlighting of points and segments, and links to alternative activities. Students’ explanations can also be automatically scored using natural language processing tools, including ETS c-rater and open-source LightSide. These scores will be used to investigate the optimal design of guidance based on the scores.

  4. Graph Portfolio

    Based on research that shows the value of sharing artifacts (Hoffman et al., 2003; Matuk, et al., 2013), GRIDS will allow students to share and jointly annotate graphing artifacts. In current WISE units, the Idea Manager provides a space for students to exchange concise text-based ideas. Using a similar approach, students will save their constructed, annotated graphs in a private portfolio and share these with the wider GRIDS community. We will investigate promising formats for sharing graphs and data (e.g., peer review, class discussions, aggregated data displays, and shared repositories).

  5. Graph Video Analysis

    New web browser standards and software allow for video stream capture, recording, and analysis. GRIDS will use these technologies to enable students to analyze motion from real-world video artifacts and connect data generated from these analyses to the graph construction, assessment, and feedback tools outlined above.