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Welcome to my practical data use email for K–12 educators! Every other week I send an idea for practical data use that you can use today in your education job. I'll be including activities like these in my new book The K–12 Educator's Data Guidebook: Reimagining Practical Data Use in Schools, which will be out later this year.

If this activity helps you, consider sharing it with a friend by clicking on the buttons below! That helps me learn more about what's helping you go from stuck to unstuck with your data work. 
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Live footage of me after I get an email asking to interpret data for a meeting. Build confidence by using a routine for navigating data charts.

Part 1: Spot a Chart's Elements

This is part one of the Spot, Scribe, Study process for navigating data charts with confidence. 


What This Does 

In this activity, you'll learn the first step in the Spot, Scribe, Study approach to using a chart. You'll build your confidence around charts by learning to identify the basic building blocks of a chart. 

Pick a chart you've seen at work, forward this email to a friend, and try it together in-person, on a video call, or as a staff meeting activity. 

How This Helps Us 

Imagine this: You're a teacher at an elementary school. It's Thursday at 3:00. You're planning for Friday when your laptop dings, alerting you to an email. You stop what you're doing to look at the email and see it's from the principal. The subject line says "Prepare to discuss data for tomorrow's staff meeting."

You double click on the attachment and up comes a data chart. You feel something that's not quite panic, but not quite peace either. You think to yourself, "What am I going to say about this tomorrow? What will my teammates say about it? Will I have to show my own data?" 

Here's the thing: a chart's ability to condense a lot of data into a single image is why it can be so helpful and so overwhelming at the same time. 

Having a routine to use when you encounter a chart will narrow your actions down so you proceed with more confidence. Let's start with the first part: spotting the basic elements of a chart. 

Instructions: Spot the Chart's Elements


Follow the steps below to identify a chart's main elements. Not all charts have these three elements, but if you learn these you'll have a routine for the majority of charts you see at work. 

  1. Spot the x-axis: The x-axis is the horizontal line that represents a category or a set of numbers. 
  2. Spot the y-axis: The y-axis also represents a category or a set of numbers, but it runs vertically on the chart.
  3. Spot the visual elements: These are the shapes on the chart that represent values, usually quantities. They’re the bars, dots, and colors that help us use the data to make comparisons.


Here's a chart I made as an example. It's not real data, but it's similar to other charts you see at work. It's a bar chart that shows the average score of all students who took five quizzes.
Let's spot the chart's elements:
  1. Spot the x-axis: In this chart, the x-axis represents a quiz. There are five quizzes, labeled "Quiz 1" all the way to "Quiz 5."
  2. Spot the y-axis: In this chart, the y-axis represents the average quiz score across all students who took that quiz. This number ranges from 0 to 100. 
  3. Spot the visual elements: This chart uses vertical bars as the main visual element. The height of the bar represents the average quiz score. 

Now you know how to spot a chart's elements. In the next newsletter, we'll talk about the second part of the Spot, Scribe, Study approach to charts: Scribe. You'll learn to deepen your understanding and build your confidence with charts by writing about the chart's elements.

If you're not subscribed to this email, click here to sign up and you'll join the community of practical data users that gets these every two weeks!

A couple more things before we close up: I've got a podcast with my colleague Joshua Rosenberg called About Practice. We talk about challenges and solutions for using research in everyday education jobs. It's super fun and you can subscribe on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

And last, I wrote a book with some awesome people about using data science tools in the education field called Data Science in Education Using R. You can read it for free here and buy your print copy here.

That's all for now! More in a couple weeks!

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