Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Taste the Rainbow: Teaching Colors and graphing with Candy

Teach your child his/her colors and graphing skills using your favorite bite-sized candies.

First create a "graph" without the info.  You'll need an x and y axis - at 14, ours was a little small  for a single bag of skittles, so I recommend going to 20 on your vertical axis and then list the colors along your x, or horizontal axis.

Please remember to title each axis and the whole graph.  This is something that I notice goes over-looked even in many elementary school workbooks, but to a scientist it is a little like not crossing your t's or dotting your i's.  It may seem like such a detail is relatively insignificant and in most cases it probably is, but simple things like not including titles on graphs or units of measurement can mean the difference in monies for further studies and expenses to a professional (NASA, actually spent a couple million on a mistake because of dropped units).  It can also mean the difference between life and death in medical applications.  It is just good to begin well and be a stickler about such things from the start.  If your child or children don't become doctors - ah well, they still know how to label things properly right?

As an example, think about the photo above.  I purposefully left out the units on my y axis (number of skittles).  You can grasp that piece of information from the context of the rest of the graph, but what if the graph was really about a study we did where we asked a bunch of people what their favorite color was?  Perhaps each unit really represents 10, or 100 people who feel that color is their favorite flavor.  The graph takes on a different significance and meaning with this slight alteration.  It is in the titles and units that this kind of information is made clear.  If your child is past learning colors and is really focusing on graph skills, this might be a good activity to do.  Ask every family member (even distant aunts and uncles) and friend their favorite flavor, now graph it that way and compare the two graphs.  What changes must be made clear in how the graph is made to make this difference clear to a reader that does not have that background information?

If you are working with a younger child and the purpose is to introduce graphing,
  1. Show your child the graph you've pre-made and Ask the question:  I wonder which color is found most in a ______ bag/ container.  You could use m&m's, Skittles, Starbursts, sweet tarts...
  2. Open your candies and organize the candies by color, stacking the candies on the grid as shown.  Speak about the colors as you do this repeating the color names over and over again.
  3. Count each "stack" of candies and ask the question again.
  4. Now ask your child if there was a way to tell which color had the most without counting.
  5. Allow your child to have a handful or two - and maybe eat a few yourself.  Follow up again on another day with more questions.  Does every bag of skittles have the same numbers? - test it out and then make a graph to answer that question.  Can we graph the favorite flavors of friends?  Do other candies get split by color in about the same amounts?  Be creative and have fun with it.   

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