Students’ approaches to exploring relationships between categorical variables

Traci Higgins, Jan Mokros, Andee Rubin, Jacob Sagrans


In the context of an afterschool program in which students explore relatively large authentic datasets, we investigated how 11- to 14-year old students worked with categorical variables. During the program, students learned to use the Common Online Data Analysis Platform (CODAP), a statistical analysis platform specifically designed for middle and high school students, to create and interpret graphs. Following the program, we conducted individual clinical interviews, during which students used CODAP to answer questions about relationships between variables. Here, we describe how students engaged in exploratory data analysis that involved looking at relationships between two categorical variables. Students worked from data in table form and created “contingency graphs,” a variant of contingency tables, which they used to analyze and draw insights from the data. Our research identified four strategies that students used to examine the data in order to explore patterns, make comparisons, and answer questions with the data.