Resource Type
Middle School and Up
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McMurdo Field Station, Antarctica
Denise Hardoy
Anne Todgham
Related Members
Computers with internet access
Tools and Methods
General Life Science
General Environmental Studies


Denise Hardoy created this resource after spending five weeks embedded with Dr. Anne Todgham’s team studying the effects of climate change on Antarctic fishes in 2019. This lesson addresses one of the most difficult aspects of science for students - making sense of data.


Success Criteria

  • Given a graph, students will write an analysis paragraph of a graph that includes both variables, high and low points, patterns and trends, as well as anomalies in the data.
  • Students will construct a scientific explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from sources (including the students’ own experiments) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past.

Analyzing and Interpreting Data

Analyzing data in 6–8 builds on K–5 experiences and progresses to extending quantitative analysis to investigations, distinguishing between correlation and causation, and basic statistical techniques of data and error analysis.

Lesson Preparation

  • Prior to this lesson, students should be familiar with the scientific method, specifically including data collection.
  • Students should have a basic understanding of dependent and independent variables.


  • Use the attached slideshow (in Lesson Materials) to introduce the lesson.

Engage Phenomenon

  • Display the provided graph. Ask students to record what they notice and what they wonder about the data.

    Vostok Ice Core Samples
    Vostok Ice Core Samples: Graph of carbon dioxide levels from 800,000 years ago to present

  • Record students' ideas onto the whiteboard, Google Slide, or large poster paper. Sticky notes can also be used. (Remote alternative: record ideas on a shared digital platform-Digital Post-it note)


  1. Have a class discussion about students' ideas. The teacher should provide focus on:
  • Information on how data was collected- analysis of trapped gas bubbles in Ice core samples.
  • Title of the graph (includes both variables)
  • X and Y-axis labels (point out that the Dependent variable is usually the Y-axis)
  • Scale- units used
  1. Students are then divided into groups (or digital breakout rooms) and assigned a graph to study. (These graphs are from fictitious data). Their task is to provide notes on what they notice and wonder about their new graph.

  2. Reconvene the entire class and each group presents their findings.


Now students are going to formalize their findings. The teacher explains how data is used to tell a story (explain the findings of scientific investigation). It provides evidence to support scientific claims.

  1. Return to the first graph. The teacher explains to students that we will now be writing a formal analysis of these graphs. Start with a “We do it” and analyze the first graph together as a class. This procedure can be broken down into six steps. Getting started on the analysis is often the most difficult part for students. They don’t know where to begin. Following this formula, students can write a clear and concise analysis of the graph. Write the paragraph together as a class.

The first sentence of the analysis This graph shows____________________(Insert title of graph) For example- This graph shows the carbon dioxide concentration of Earth’s atmosphere from 800,000 years ago to the present.

  1. The second part is organized using an acronym that the students can memorize- HLPA:
  • H: High points- Describe the highest point of data on the graph. Students should not use the words “Highest Point”. This tends to make their analysis meaningless to them. Instead, they need to use the wording from each axis. For example: “the highest Carbon dioxide level….” particularly focusing on the dependent variable displayed on the Y-axis.
  • L: Lowest points- Now students repeat this process addressing the lowest data points. Again, terminology should be from the Y-axis label, not using the words “Lowest point).
  • P: Patterns and trends: This is the most important and difficult part of their analysis. Help students see an overall pattern or trend. Show multiple examples (provided). Explain that patterns are cycles that are repeated, where trends are general tendencies. Provide a sentence frame for struggling students: “The most noticeable trend in this data is…." or “One pattern I observed was …...)”
  • A: Anomalies Students often need an explanation of anomalies. Give examples of one data point that does not fit the overall trend. I tell my students it is when something “Wonky” happens. Maybe there was a snowstorm and scientists couldn't collect data. Maybe a battery died and the instrumentation wasn’t working right. Students should understand that real data is messy and that one reason measuring something over such large time scales is important is to pull out the trends and put the anomalies in context. Again, provide sentence frames as needed for your population of students: “One anomaly I noticed occurred on day______ when_________ happened."
  1. The final sentence is a conclusion. Students can use the following sentence frame to help write their conclusions or create their own. “This data might mean…..”

An example paragraph might look like this: “This graph shows the Ice core carbon dioxide levels(PPM) from 800,000 years ago to the present. The highest carbon dioxide level of 420 PPM is found currently. The lowest levels are seen around 680,000 years ago. One pattern I notice is a fluctuation in levels about every 100,000 years. There is a clear trend of drastically increasing carbon dioxide levels in the last 1,000 years. This might mean that humans are contributing to an increase in CO2 since the industrial revolution.”

  • Break students into groups to analyze their group graph. This can also be done digitally in break-out rooms.
  • Give prompts or use the handout to remind students of each part of the analysis.
  • Students should present their analysis to the class for peer and teacher review.
  • Use the attached rubric as a checklist for students and for peer review of paragraphs. This review serves as a formative assessment and can take many forms

In-Class Option: * Create a gallery walk of their work. Give students sticky notes or copies of the rubric to provide feedback. * If time allows, give students time to review feedback and make edits on their analysis. * Graph analysis is a skill that takes time to develop. If possible, allow time for students to exchange graphs and write another analysis.

Remote Option: * Post graphs and analysis on a Google doc that is shared with the class. Feedback can be provided in comments.


  • The logical next step is to have students become competent at creating their own graphs to analyze. Using graph paper, students will create a graph using any relevant data set.

Be sure students include:

  • Graph title- including variables
  • X and Y-axis labels
  • Units
  • Appropriate scale
  • Data


For step by step instructions on building a graph:

  • How to Make a Line Chart in Google Sheets (Step-by-Step) or access the PDF from Productivity spot that explains this procedure in detail at
  • This can be extended to use a spreadsheet program to create the graph for them.

Evaluate (Assessment)

  • Formative: Peer and teacher review of group analysis
  • Summative: Students are given an opportunity to independently analyze a graph.


Denise Hardoy, PolarTREC Teacher 2019 Vista Verde Middle School Moreno Valley, CA dhardoy [at]

Standards Other


MS-LS2-1. Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for the effects of resource availability on organisms and populations of organisms in an ecosystem.

SEP 4. Analyzing and Interpreting Data

Attachment Size
Download Full Lesson 2.1 MB 2.1 MB
Lesson Materials1.17 MB 1.17 MB

This program is supported by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed by this program are those of the PIs and coordinating team, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.