Aerial shot of campus.

Helping Middle School Students Understand Graphs

STEM-field students of all ages are often challenged to construct and interpret graphs that depict information about two or more covarying quantities.

“One great obstacle to students’ understanding of graphs is that they often haven’t had enough experiences constructing the underlying coordinate systems needed to make sense of graphical representations,” says Mathematical Sciences Professor Teo Paoletti.

As the recipient of a one-year award from the Spencer Foundation, Paoletti hopes to remove that obstacle. He will be working directly with sixth-graders to improve their understanding of typical textbook graphs — such as those that show how an object’s position changes over time or how the volume of a gas changes as its temperature rises or falls.

“I’m hoping to design a series of tasks that helps students view graphs as a representational tool that can explicitly help them reason about changing quantities and then consider how they can graphically represent them — first individually and then together,” he explains.

Temperature and flow rate of water at a faucet when hot water is turned on.
Temperature and flow rate of water at a faucet when hot water is turned on.

While Paoletti is currently working with two Montclair State doctoral students on the project, he plans eventually to extend the work to include researchers from Texas State University.

For Paoletti, the prestigious award validates the relevance of his work to the broader community of STEM educators. “I hope I am able to provide important insights that teachers around the world can use in their own classrooms to help their students better understand graphical representations.”