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What’s Going On in This Graph? Begins Sixth Year

1 October 2022 No Comment

The ASA partnership with The New York Times Learning Network on “What’s Going On in This Graph?” (WGOITG), a weekly online feature, is about to start its sixth year. Led by Sharon Hessney and designed for students in grades 7 and above, the program helps teachers lead class discussions about graphs appearing in The New York Times. WGOITG encompasses activities and questions designed to improve students’ understanding and critical interpretation of visual displays of information in real life.

WGOITG in Year Five
Running from September 2021 to May 2022, year five of “What’s Going On in This Graph?” included the following:

  • 30 releases, with 25 graph types and 69 Stat Nuggets
  • 48 moderators from 24 states and two foreign countries, plus editors Roxy Peck and Erica Chauvet
  • Three Lessons of the Day, written by Dashiell Young-Saver, creator of Skew The Script
  • 11,485 responses, up from 9,509 in year four

According to Hessney, the year five graphs continued to cover ongoing challenges—COVID (4), climate change (6), inequality (2), and gun violence (1)—in addition to newer ones such as Ukraine refugees and free speech. Diversity showed up in graphs based on the 2020 US Census (4) and international surveys (2). Lighter topics included Olympics gymnastics routines, international optimism, and weddings.

In addition to the releases, Hessney and the ASA team for ThisIsStatistics spread the word about WGOITG through the ASA #DataViz Headline Challenge. More than 1,020 headlines were received based on the April graphs. Additionally, Hessney gave six virtual presentations.

Launched in the fall of 2017, WGOITG expanded to providing weekly content in 2018. A previously published New York Times graph and related content is released most Thursday afternoons throughout the academic year. Students are asked four questions: “What do you notice in the graph?”; “What do you wonder from the graph?”; “How does the graph relate to you and your community?”; and “Can you create a catchy headline that captures the main idea of the graph?” Students and teachers can participate in a live online discussion about the week’s WGOITG on Wednesdays between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. ET.

There are usually about 300–500 responses weekly, although responses have exceeded 1,000 some weeks. Each week, the previous WGOITG is updated with a “reveal” that shares the free link to the New York Times article that included the graph, highlights from the discussion and additional questions, shout outs for the best student headlines, and related statistical concepts and vocabulary (“Stat Nuggets”).

In addition to curating, writing, and moderating WGOITG, Hessney recruited and coordinates more than 50 teacher moderators and has participated in numerous webinars about the program. She also updates an index of WGOITG’s released graphs by topic, graph type, and Stat Nugget. Roxy Peck and Erica Chauvet serve as advisers and editors.

To mark the first five years of WGOITG, the editors at Amstat News asked Hessney the following questions.

What are you trying to accomplish (and not accomplish) through WGOITG?

ASA partners with The New York Times Learning Network on WGOITG to increase statistical literacy and greater understanding of graphs. Viewers learn how to tease out the stories New York Times graphs tell about our world. As past New York Times graphics editor Amanda Cox would say, “Graphs are not just points, lines and bars, but are meant to generate empathy.” Students learn to be skeptical, but not cynical, about statistics and graphs.

Who is the intended audience for WGOITG?

WGOITG is prepared for students in middle school all the way to college. Of course, math and statistics classes use WGOITG, but the releases have been used extensively by science and humanities classes, too. Students will learn about different types of graphs and statistics without realizing they are learning so much. It’s only the graph’s topic that limits its audience.

Describe the noticing and wondering approach and why you use it.

Annie Fetter began asking math students, “What do you notice?” and “What do you wonder?” This teaching strategy opens up the discussion to all students of varying abilities with its low floor (anyone can notice something about a graph) and high ceiling (the big idea and nuances of a graph). By using the noticing and wondering questions in a discussion with give and take, the students’ depth of interest in the graph increases.

What makes WGOITG unique?

WGOITG is unique in so many ways:

  • WGOITG and their corresponding New York Times articles are free.
  • WGOITG is the only teaching source using New York Times graphs and the only weekly math feature of the New York Times Learning Network.
  • WGOITG introduced the noticing and wondering strategy to the Learning Network. Its use has spread beyond WGOITG and, in schools, beyond math lessons.
  • Students publish their responses online. With live moderation replies by high-school and college teachers including students from around the world, a student’s ZIP code does not determine who they learn from.
  • Seasoned teachers curate the graphs and write the teacher and student resources. This includes each graph’s Stat Nuggets—a graph’s specific math and statistics terms with their nontechnical definitions and accompanying explanations of how they are used in the graph.
  • WGOITG has three archives—by topic, graph type (49), and Stat Nugget (120+)—which broaden the use of the feature.

How have the responses to WGOITG changed in the past five years?

We see more thoughtful responses that are mathematically correct and substantially longer.

Understanding the webpage traffic data is proprietary, to what extent do you think you are accomplishing your goals?

Our main goal is to spread the attraction to graphs and how to “read” them. This is measured by our “traffic” and geographic reach. With 126 releases in the past five years, we have had more than 42,000 online responses. But how many students have engaged with WGOITG? Though we do not have access to the feature’s traffic statistics, we have been told the number of viewers may be about 100:1 (viewers to responders). Since students need to register with their location, we know we are hearing from a much broader geographic range, including from around the world.

What’s next for WGOITG?

Though I wish for fewer graphs on adverse climate change, inequality, COVID, and armed conflicts, we use graphs that reflect what is going on in our students’ world. This continues to be our mission.

How can one get involved or contribute?

Go to our website. Read any of the releases that catch your fancy. Try out WGOITG for introducing a math or statistics concept or topic. Using a current release (published weekly September–May), respond! Submit your catchy headline that captures the main idea of the graph. If you generate a winning headline, you get published in The New York Times.

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