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Graphs - What do they say?
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Paper presented at the ERA Conference 1992, Singapore, 24-26 September 1992
The most widespread use of graphs is to illustrate the variation of some aspect of a real situation, be it in medical sciences, economic forecasts, environmental studies or elsewhere and numerate adults ought to comprehend such representations and draw inferences from the data represented.

Yet many, if not all, approaches to the teaching of graphs in our schools focus mainly on technical issues - for example, algebraic manipulation, point plotting and reading, filling in entries in tables - at the expense of the meaning which is to be conveyed.

160 secondary three girls were each given an exercise to do on the interpretation of graphs of real life situations to assess their ability to communicate the language of graphs. The worksheets used for the study were taken from the teaching package 'The Language of Graphs' produced by the Shell Centre for Mathematical Education at the University of Nottingham, UK.

The findings of the study show that many of the subjects are unable to interpret given graphs of real life situations. The implication that pupils are unable to relate the graphical knowledge that they are taught in school for communication purposes calls for re-examination of the approaches adopted in the teaching of graphs in most if not all schools.
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