Teach the Earth > Undergraduate Research > 2014 Workshop > Activities > Intro to Graphing

Intro to Graphing

Debra W. Woodall, Daytona State College
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Exemplary Teaching Collection

Resources in this top level collection a) must have scored Exemplary or Very Good in all five review categories, and must also rate as “Exemplary” in at least three of the five categories. The five categories included in the peer review process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
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For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This activity has benefited from input from faculty educators beyond the author through a review and suggestion process. This review took place as a part of a faculty professional development workshop where groups of faculty reviewed each others' activities and offered feedback and ideas for improvements. To learn more about the process On the Cutting Edge uses for activity review, see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Aug 8, 2014


Intro to Graphing is a 2-phase exercise that introduces students to Excel for the purposes of properly storing their data and producing graphs.



I use this graphing exercise in my introductory undergraduate labs for oceanography and geology.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Because this is an introductory exercise, no particular skills or concepts must be mastered.

How the activity is situated in the course

The Intro to Graphing exercises are introduced at the beginning of the semester in the first two oceanography and geology labs. Students will then use these skills throughout the remaining semester to record and maintain actual data measured by the students while in the field.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The goal if this exercise is to enable students to create graphs based on the data they measure in the lab/field and then interpret their data based on the graphs they produce. Content includes the proper use of Excel worksheets, data entry and organization, graphing and graph interpretation.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Goals include data synthesis, interpretation and analysis, formulation of scientific questions, critical evaluation

Other skills goals for this activity

Students learn to work independently as well as in groups. This activity can be expanded to include activities involving the scientific process e.g., developing a scientific question, researching current information about the topic, identifying the materials/methods needed to answer the scientific question, interpreting data and drawing conclusions. Students also become actively involved in the teaching/learning process via peer review (see Description below).

Description and Teaching Materials

Students are given 'Graphing I' and 'How do I Choose...' for the first phase of this exercise. Before starting the Graphing I exercise, I also includes a brief PowerPoint review that I have created (you may create your own) about graphing i.e., what is a graph and what a proper graph should include (e.g., title, axis labels, etc.). The Graphing I Excel file provides students with data already entered–they simply have to produce the graph, as well as an interpretive statement/scientific question (these instructions are on the Excel worksheets).

For the second phase, 'Graphing II' students are asked to work in groups to review data tables. Each group reviews the data and offers suggestions about what the data are 'saying', which graph would best represent the data, and what title, axis labels would be appropriate (again, the instructions are found on the worksheets). They are then to work independently to enter the data into Excel and produce graphs. Further instructions are located on Graphing I and II Excel worksheets.

Graphing I (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 292kB Aug8 14)
Choosing a Graph (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 294kB Aug8 14)
Graphing II (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 15kB Aug8 14)

Usually for the third week and after I have reviewed student graph submissions, I create a PowerPoint presentation that includes some of the more instructive graphs (anonymously!). Students then participate in a "respectful" peer-review of the graphs.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Students need repetitive exercises in order to reinforce their skills and confidence in graphing. Graphing I and II are just the beginning for my students. They produce weekly graphs based on data they collect in the field.

I also encourage my students to write down the steps they took in creating their graphs. This can then be used as a reference (making sure they note the Excel version).


Students submit their work into the Dropbox for grading and feedback. A graphing rubric is included. Graphing I & II Rubric (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 27kB Aug18 14)

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