Collecting Data

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What Is It?

We collect, display, and analyze data to describe social or physical phenomena in the world around us, to answer particular questions, or as a way to identify questions for further investigation. Students' first experiences in gathering data are likely to be collecting and counting objects, such as stamps or coins, or taking simple surveys of their classmates. As students become more skilled, they also will collect data by observing or measuring, or they may use data that is a subset or compilation of information collected by someone else.

Why Is It Important?

The main purpose of collecting data is to answer questions whose answers are not immediately obvious. Students' natural inclination to ask questions must be nurtured. Students should learn through multiple experiences that how data are gathered and organized depends on the questions they are trying to answer (NCTM, 2000).

Of all the math skills taught, with perhaps the exception of computation skills, data-analysis skills are the ones people have the most opportunity to use in their day-to-day lives. The better a person is at data analysis, the better he or she is equipped to understand and evaluate the barrage of statistical information encountered daily in the media-in weather reports, product or service advertisements, sports broadcasting, health and environmental news, political advertisements, stock market reports, and so on.

When students participate in the steps of data analysis by formulating questions and collecting, displaying, and analyzing data, they acquire a valuable skill that encourages their curiosity and helps them describe their world and make decisions about it. Also, when they know the inaccurate ways data can be collected, displayed, and analyzed, they can evaluate the soundness of another person's data analysis.

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