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How Collection Methods Affect Outcomes of Data Analysis: 6th Grade Math Lesson

By Nicole Hilsabeck

Encourage your students to view statistics with a critical eye and understand how the methods used to collect data can strongly influence final results.

Objective: Students will identify how the number of observations and measurement of attributes studied contribute to the overall effectiveness of data collection.

  • CCSS.Math.Content.6.SP.B.5: Summarize numerical data sets in relation to their context, such as by:
    • CCSS.Math.Content.6.SP.B.5a: Reporting the number of observations.
    • CCSS.Math.Content.6.SP.B.5b: Describing the nature of the attribute under investigation, including how it was measured and its units of measurement.

Materials: Pencils, paper, clipboards

Lesson Procedure

Step One: Student Survey and Introduction

Will students develop questions with multiple-choice or free-form answers? Invite students to participate in a survey by distributing a sheet to select students with five questions on it. Questions can be based around a central theme, such as the following example:

  • Do you play any sports?
  • Do you play an instrument?
  • Where is your favorite place to spend time in your current city?
  • How much money do you spend on a typical weekend?
  • How do you earn extra money?

You should select a group of students who may all have similar answers, such as students who currently participate in sports, or students who are part of the school band.

Once students have finished answering, quickly collect and display the data in both recorded answers and a basic visual display (such as a histogram or dot plot). Have the class write a quick list summarizing how many students were surveyed, and how the questions were answered (in numbers or words).

Ask students to share their thoughts on how well the displayed collection of data represents how they spend their free time, and support those thoughts with evidence. By choosing only a small group of the class, you influenced the outcome of the survey, which will become apparent to students through discussion.

Broaden the discussion to allow students to connect the idea of how data collection methods affect survey outcomes, and how to determine if a survey has been done accurately and fairly.

Step Two: Creation and Application of Surveys

Ask students to work in groups of five. Hand each a group a pre-written card with a general survey topic on it (such as “household pets,” or “favorite lunch food”) and explain that they will be creating their own five-question surveys to ask their peers. After working their survey topic into a statistical question to pose as the subject of the survey, students will need to bear the following questions in mind as they work:

  • How many students do they plan to survey?
  • How would they describe the population of students they are choosing to survey?
  • How will the answers be given? Numbers, words, or both?
  • How do they plan to display their data? Histograms, box and whisker plots, dot plots?

Remind students to be sensitive and follow school policies if choosing select groups of students to survey. For example, students should be discouraged from grouping students according to racial differences or physical attributes.

Students who have finished creating their surveys may begin asking other students who have also finished. Students still creating their questions should be given a set time limit if needed so they are not distracted.

Step Three: Data Analysis and Discussion

Give the class a set amount of time to complete their data collection and to record and display data on their papers. Once completed, they can post their results on the board, with a cover sheet listing the following information:

  • Survey Topic (including a statistical question they are seeking to answer)
  • Number of Students Surveyed
  • Types of Students Surveyed (whole class, students wearing jeans, students with backpacks, etc.)
  • Method of Display Used

Students should have some time to browse through the work of their peers. This is a good transitional activity as all of the students finish up their work. At the end of the work period, lead a brief discussion on the following topics:

  • Which surveys seemed to be the most effective? Why?
  • How clearly were the statistical questions students used as survey topics posed?
  • How did the individual questions affect the way data was displayed for each topic?

Assessment: Ask students to write a brief paragraph at the end of the class session summarizing what they learned from their experience surveying other students, and how this experience will affect the way they read statistical reports in the future.

Extension: Have students bring in samples of surveys or studies in the news that report how many people were surveyed, and explain whether they think such studies were effective in collecting data that accurately represented the information presented.