Collinsville High School Math Teacher Bill Gottschalk was selected to be one of a dozen educators from throughout the United States to participate in an educational feature for the New York Times online: “What’s Going on in This Graph?.”
“What’s Going on in This Graph?” or “WGOITGraph?” is a new monthly feature in partnership with the American Statistical Association (A.S.A.). The A.S.A. “educates the public about using data to understand our world and believes that statistical literacy is important for everyone.”
On Wednesday, December 5, 2018, Mr. Gottschalk had the opportunity to be moderator as students and educators around the country discussed a graph relating to the roughly 700,000 undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children who are participating in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
The graph was chosen from those published in the New York Times. The content and statistical concepts are “suitable for most middle and high school students.” Three questions demonstrating math and statistics thinking are asked:
• What do you notice?
• What do you wonder?
• What’s going on in this graph?
Students are asked to “notice” and “wonder” about the graphs to explore them further. According the Times, analyzing the graphs “is intended to help [students] think more critically about graphs and the underlying data. Data visualizations, like these graphs, are an important part of statistics. They help us to understand and learn from data.”
Click here to view the December 2018 graph and discussion summary.
Becoming a Moderator
This high-profile opportunity came about because Gottschalk has developed a national profile among AP Statistics teachers. When he began teaching AP Statistics at Collinsville High School nine years ago, he connected with other teachers across the country through an online group where statistics teachers shared information with each other.
Through the group, he met a “fantastic teacher from Pennsylvania who gave me some content material to use in class which provided me with a good running start to teach,” says Gottschalk. The two finally met four years ago when Gottschalk applied and was chosen to be an AP Reader for the national AP Statistics exam.
“I was accepted that year and finally got to meet the teacher who helped me when I first started teaching AP Statistics,” says Gottschalk. Two years later, Gottschalk became a “subject matter expert” with her and a dozen other statistics teachers, creating content and questions for an online statistics course for a textbook company.
Last year, this mentor suggested a unique opportunity. “She told me that the New York Times had an online feature that lets students look at a set of graphs related to a topic from a previously published NYT article,” said Gottschalk.
“Students from around the country participate in the online discussion and teacher moderators respond back to the students’ comments,” according to Gottschalk, “She asked me if I would like to be one of the dozen or so statistics teachers who would participate as a moderator of student responses.”
How the Graph Becomes a Lesson
“A week before any student comments are responded to by a moderator, the graph(s) are revealed for students to start noticing and wondering. They may post comments for that whole week. Then, the next Wednesday, moderators start commenting back,” said Gottschalk.
“I was given the graph and information the day before the release on the NYT website to make any edits before it was published the next day. This also gave me time to look over the graphs myself to see what I noticed and wondered so I could answer student responses more easily,” Gottschalk explained.
“We are encouraged to be supportive in their discoveries no matter how big or small they may be. Some students ask really great questions while others misinterpret the graphs. Students are encouraged to reply back to other students’ responses, too.”
Gottschalk was grateful to CUSD 10 for supporting his participation in this project, “My involvement was on a Wednesday during school hours, but the district was gracious enough to give me professional development time to be a part of this.”
How CHS Students Benefit
Gottschalk sees several ways to bring what he’s learned back to students at Collinsville High School. “After going through the process, I will try to incorporate it into my AP Statistics class at least. My geometry students would benefit from an activity like this, but other subjects like social studies, English, science, etc. could benefit from this type of analysis, too,” he says.
“Our students need to be able to analyze the validity of conclusions made from graphs and data. We can typically determine if a statement is true or false based on certain given information, but as soon as that information is numerical, it’s very easy for someone to skew the conclusion in such a way that most people will just naturally agree with the findings without questioning it too much.
“For example, what if I told you that 36% of all statistics are made up on the spot? It’s not true, but it sounds like it could be plausible, right? In an age of fake news and untruths, it’s very important our students are equipped with enough tools to distinguish fact from fiction.”