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Data Analysis Math Investigation – Conversation Hearts and Data Smarts

Teaching data = bliss. Most kids are thrilled when you ask them to look at an organized visual and answer questions about it. I remember thinking as a kid…”This is math?! I’m on board!” There’s just something about reading a graph that revitalizes your love for math. It’s a breath of fresh air when you get in that routine of solving word problems or algorithms.

Although my second graders are exposed to light doses of data throughout the year (especially during our Measure-Thon), I always plan my data unit for February.

Why? Because Valentine’s Day is the perfect focal point for a data analysis unit. My favorite math investigation for practicing data analysis is called Conversation Hearts and Data Smarts. This unit allows the kids to completely immerse themselves in heart-themed data collection the entire week of Valentine’s Day.

Here’s a peek at my class in action during this year’s unit.


Day 1: Data Smarts: What Do You Notice?

Students visit stations around the classroom to take a close look at four different methods for collecting data: frequency table, bar graph, pictograph and line plot.

Students taking notes on characteristics of a bar graph

As they travel, students use their My Data Smarts journal to record observations about how each method presents data in an organized format. I always model the expectations for detailed definitions and diagrams. As they visit each poster, I get little goosebumps because their concentration levels are through the roof. I don’t often incorporate “walk the room” activities like this in my instruction but I really need to…it’s like magic.

Each of my posters has two layers: the top layer shows an example of the method for data collection and requires students to critically observe each component of the graph/chart. The bottom layer includes labels that point out the most important components of each graph/chart, which allows students to check their work.

Students checking the accuracy of their observations by checking the notes page.

Day 2: Conversation Hearts Activity

Students complete their own data collection and graphing activity using conversation hearts candy… or foam heart cutouts from Michael’s if you have health restrictions in your classroom.

Student creating a frequency table.

During this activity, students make predictions about the number of candies in their box, record the actual number of candies using a frequency table, and graph their results on a pictograph, bar graph and line plot. They have to refer to their “Data Smarts” notes from the day prior to ensure their graph creation is accurate.

Student creating a bar graph to show the number of hearts they have.


Days 3 & 4 – Analyze Your Data

Students analyze their data by answering questions that require them to refer to the various tables and graphs they created.
I pose the question, “What Does It Mean To Analyze?” and the students share their thoughts at the end of each session. These analysis questions are not designed to be easy. They take careful thinking and constant reference to each student’s data.
During this portion of the investigation, I have the students work with partners. This year, I had them pick their own partners, which was a disaster. Since it was Valentine’s week, they had that lovin’ feeling in their hearts and couldn’t stay away from working (chatting) with friends. Next year, I will definitely assign strategic partnerships.
When all is said and done, I feel confident that my class has deeply explored the basic methods for collecting data and has taken a dive into the world of data analysis. This unit was my go-to in third grade for several years and was just as effective for my seconds (with a bit more scaffolding).

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I’m Laura Santos

I’ve been an elementary teacher for ten years, and love sharing tips and resources that make differentiated learning more manageable for you. Thank you for visiting.

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