When children collect and analyze data, they're integrating several mathematical skills to answer questions and solve real-world problems. For example, to answer the question, "What is the most preferred color in our classroom?," children need to ask their classmates what their favorite color is (collect data), sort and organize their findings (classification), and count how many are in each category (counting and cardinality). Children can then represent their findings in simple charts or graphs for all to see and discuss! It is important for young childen to have lots of opportunities to think systematically about questions and answers that are relevant to their lives and interests. These early experiences provide a foundation for later data learning using technology, models, and simulations. Check out our sorting games and suggested readings to enagage children in playful expeirences with sorting, counting, and describing data!
Why are data collection and analysis important in early math? Sub-Topics
Computational thinking is a systematic approach for using data to answer questions or solve problems. Young children are using their computational thinking skills when they collect data, represent their data visually, and then examine their data representaiton to answer a question. You can help children exercise their computational thinking skills by asking them to investigate a question! For example, "Do more people want pretzels or popcorn for snack?" Children can survey the group to find out each person's snack preference, record the data on a tally chart, count how many votes are in each category, and report their findings: "Five people want popcorn and seven want pretzels, so pretzels has the most votes!"
Representing data visually, and examining and interpreting data representations, are important components of data collection and analysis. When young children have fun opportunities to create and analyze simple bar graphs, pictographs, object graphs, and tally charts, they're practicing their computational thinking skills and engaging in the scientific method. Ask children lots of questions about the graphs they create or the data representations that you see in the real world. For example, "What do you notice about this graph? What does this graph tell us? What are the categories? How many are in each category? Would this graph change if we collected data at another time?"
Young children instinctually notice attributes: shape, size, color, length, type, and other characteristics of objects. They also notice that items can have attributes in common (these are all red) and not in common (these are all red but those are all blue). With practice, children are able to sort collections of objects by one attribute, like color, and then by two or more attributes. For example, they can sort the items that are large, red squares from the items that are large, red triangles. Help children think flexibly about their sorting! After they sort according to an attribute, or sorting rule, ask, "Can you think of another way that we could sort these items? If we sorted these items in a different way, would we get the same results?"