“Why do I need to learn this?” is a question that, as parents, you have probably heard from your children, or maybe you have asked this question yourself during your studying years.

While (admittedly) there are some Mathematics concepts that are less common in day to day life, and even some that we will never encounter again from the day we leave school, the concept of graphs is not one of them.

The ability to read and plot graphs is important as, in real life, we are faced with many instances where graphs are utilised to present information. Information that would otherwise be difficult to understand and interpret in a paragraph or list would be easier to digest when presented in graph-form as humans are good at detecting patterns and do better with visual-aids.

In Primary 1 and 2, children begin learning with picture graphs. This guides them in picking up that graphs are simply diagrams that they can use to display information that they would otherwise need to write numerous sentences in order to describe. They start out with relatively concrete examples before slowly progressing towards more abstract ones at later ages.

When exposing students to graphs, it is important to not only guide them towards being able to read different types of graphs that are presented to them. Instead, we should begin by first allowing them to plot simple graphs on their own since children learn best when they are actively engaged in what they are learning. For example, a picture graph is an easy starting point. From there, they slowly begin to understand that each graph is basically telling a story and will thus be able to develop the skill of understanding information in diagram form.

At Primary 3, the students are introduced to bar graphs. Up till that point they were only shown picture graphs where they only really needed to pay attention to the number of pictures in one column. However, with bar graphs and subsequent graphs they will encounter, they will be required to find the correlation between two or more variables.

The above is an example of the instructions in plotting a bar graph. Instead of starting the students off immediately using abstract numbers and data, they will each be given a packet of M&M’s. From there, they are supposed to determine how many of each coloured M&M’s are in the packet and plot their data into the graph shown below.

The use of manipulatives will help the children be able to better understand that, like picture graphs, bar graphs are just another means of displaying information. Having the physical example of M&M’s will allow children to deepen their understanding of what bar graphs are showing and that they are not just some abstract blocks and numbers.

As they move on to upper primary, the data and graphs they will engage with will slowly become more abstract. In Primary 4, they will learn about tables and line graphs. This

is a small move away from what they are used to, as the presentation of data is no longer strictly in picture form. This is to prepare them for Primary 5 where they will need to learn

how to find the average of a set of data. Finding the average might be trickier for students as, up till now, they were simply reading the graphs. However, needing to find the average

would be taking things a step further as they are required to search for extra information from the data they have been given. It is essential that students have a solid foundation in graph

reading and that they understand that data can be displayed in different ways because in Primary 6 they will be taught how to read pie charts. This completely new way of

presentation may intimidate some children, but if they have a solid foundation and sufficient guidance, they will easily be able to master all that they need to.

Students will benefit from learning how to read and plot different types of graphs at a young age as graphs make a regular appearance in normal life. Even industries such as

telecommunications and transport utilise graphs. From presenting survey data concisely, to monitoring the traffic to a website, to even managing monthly budgets, graphs are able to aid

in all of them.

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