Enabling students to understand and analyse contemporary issues in science and technology

Graphs and data

Scientists use many different ways to visually represent their data.  This activity will allow students to familiarise themselves with some of the most common graphs that they might be presented with when looking at scientific data.

You are provided with a powerpoint showing different graphs taken from research papers.  These graphs are unedited and may be more complex than those used in exam questions.  The aim is to look at the general features of each graph, rather than understand everything that is shown.

Using Graphs Powerpoint

There are a number of activities that could be done with the graphs.

  1. Match the description of the graph with the examples of the graphs.

Print out the powerpoint slides with 4 to a page, and cut them up.  Students can then sort the graphs into groups.

2.  Rummy

Students can play a simple card game to collect sets of the cards.  The aim is to collect a description of the graph and three matching graphs.

Print out two sets of the slides (4 to a page) for each group onto card and cut up. 

In groups of 3 or 4 each player gets dealt 4 – 6 cards.  The remaining cards are placed face down in a pile on the table.  Taking it in turns each player picks up a card.  They must then discard an unwanted card.  The first person to collect a set of 4 is the winner.  They must, however, be able to justify their choice of cards.  If they have collected an incorrect card play continues until there is a winner.

3.  In pairs students choose a graph and then write 3 or 4 potential questions using it, along with a model answer.  The questions could be:

  • questions about the axes / title
  • questions about the trends shown in the data
  • questions that require numerical calculations using data from the graph
  • questions about error bars / confidence intervals / outliers on the graph

Each group then passes the questions to another group, who try to answer the questions.  Once they have done this, students can provide feedback about the questions.

Suggested activities

1.4 Data from clinical trials

1.2 Measuring health

Interpreting graphs

1.4 Clinical trials

1.7 Mobile phones and cancer?

Processing large data sets