Collinsville High School Math Teacher Bill Gottschalk was selected to be one of a two 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 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, April 8th, 2020, from 10:30 am until 1:00 pm (Central Time) Mr. Gottschalk will have the opportunity to be a moderator as students and educators around the country discuss a graph relating to the decline of bus ridership in major U.S. cities over the past ten years.
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 to 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.”
BECOMING A MODERATOR
This is second year in a row Gottschalk has had this high-profile opportunity. It came about because Gottschalk has developed a national profile among AP Statistics teachers. When he began teaching AP Statistics at Collinsville High School ten years ago, he connected with other teachers from 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 five 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.
Two years ago, 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, and I jumped at the chance!” This year, the program expanded to more statistics teachers, so Gottschalk is only moderating once this year compared to twice last year.
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 am given the graph and information the day before the release on the NYT website to make any edits before it is published the next day. This gives me time to look over the graphs to see what I notice and wonder so I can 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 chose Wednesday, April 8th to moderate this year because it fell on the first day of Spring Break, so he would not have to miss school to participate. “If I can avoid missing school for any reason, I will absolutely do so, but with our current e-Learning situation, it ended up not making a big difference,” he says. Even though students do not have to do work on Spring Break, teachers can still use the feature with their students in the days before Spring Break.
HOW CHS STUDENTS BENEFIT
Gottschalk sees several ways to bring what he’s learned back to students at Collinsville High School. “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.”