Truly Unfortunate Representations of Data

I’ve finally got a plan in place to have kids analyze bad graphs, also called Truly Unfortunate Representations of Data (ie TURDs) by some funny folks from #mtbos. Christopher Danielson wrote about them here.

I’m going to use this simple lesson to launch IM’s Unit 1: One-Variable Statistics for my Algebra class. One of my goals for the year is to make the connection between math class and the world more explicit.

Here is what I’m thinking:

Lesson Launch:

Today we are going to set the stage for our first unit: One-Variable Statistics. What comes to mind when you hear the word “statistics”? What do you think we might study? Minute to think. Turn and talk. Share out. Record their initial ideas on an anchor chart.

Introduce TURDs:

To get us warmed up for this unit, we are going to spend the day looking at TURDs. (Hopefully I’m not the only one giggling!) TURD is short for Truly Unfortunate Representation of Data. Put your fist in front of your chest, like we are doing a number talk. Here is a TURD.

Give me a thumbs up when you think you see WHY it’s a TURD Share out.

Why do you think the creator of the graph might have represented the data like this?

Potential answers: It was a mistake. Maybe they rounded. Maybe they wanted to get people to think the Republican was in the lead.

Main Task:

I have posted TURDs all around the room. Take a close look at each one and answer these two questions:

  1. Why is this graph a truly unfortunate representation of data?
  2. Was the creator of the graph trying to send a message with their TURD? If so, what message were they trying to send?

(Here is a growing collection of TURDs, mostly mined from #turdata on twitter.)

Debrief: A few possible discussion points. The last one is critical.

  1. Could a few different people share which graph they thought was the worst and why?
  2. Did you see any themes in how people were misrepresenting the data?
  3. After doing this activity, what else do you think this unit might be about? (Add ideas to anchor chart)
  4. Statistics deals with collecting, analyzing, and representing numerical data. Why do you think it might be important to study statistics? How might statistics be relevant in your life right now? In your futures? On a bigger scale, why is statistics relevant/useful in the world?

I’m hoping for takeaways along the lines of:

Understanding statistics can help us…

– collect, analyze, and represent data as truthfully as possible.
– identify when data is being misrepresented
– avoid being mislead by misrepresentations of data
– have careers that use data
– understand important issues that rely on a lot of data (such as climate change)

Throughout the unit I plan to expose my class to a variety of fields that use statistics by sharing videos of people (especially women and POC) talking about using data in their work.

Wrap Up:

Let kids choose one of these videos to watch.

What am I missing? What can I do better?

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