Friday, January 23, 2004

What's Important?

If this level of traffic keeps up, I'm definitely going to have to learn not to take comments too personally... but I thought this one deserved a response:

I must say that I find your grading style extremly obnoxious. The child no longer cares about the graph as a whole with a certain purpous but as a combination of meaningless parts.

I am definitely open to criticism about my grading or any other part of my teaching (though I certainly hope nothing I do is truly "obnoxious"). I think there are good reasons why I should lighten up on the obsessive graph grading, but "the child no longer cares about the graph as a whole with a certain purpous but as a combination of meaningless parts" is not one of those reasons.

A graph is meant to convey a numeric relationship in a visual format. Let's take a look at those "meaningless parts": The title is a guide to help the reader understand what they are going to learn from a graph. A good title "unlocks" the graph; no title leaves the reader without any idea what they are looking at. The same is true of the labels on the x- and y-axis: without them, how do you know what the graph shows? Ditto the units. When kids tell me a number without any unit, I usually ask, "Fifteen what? Bananas?" As for the numbering, it is crucial that the students learn to number their axes consistently; otherwise, one section of the graph gets stretched or squished, distorting the meaning you get by looking at it. A skill you learn somewhere between middle school and college is to describe relationships between variables based only on the shape of a graph (not the specific values). That doesn't work if the graph's shape is distorted by poor numbering.

The parts of the graph are not meaningless; the graph itself is meaningless without the parts!

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