The role of perceptual similarity, context, and situation when selecting attributes: considerations made by 5–6-year-olds in data modeling environments


Classroom data modeling involves posing questions, identifying attributes of phenomena, measuring and structuring these attributes, and then composing, revising, and communicating the outcomes. Selecting attributes is a fundamental component of data modeling, and the considerations made when selecting attributes is the focus of this paper. A teaching experiment involving 2 teacher educators and 25 pre-service teachers (PSTs) was carried out with 24 young children (5–6-year-olds) as part of a 4-day data modeling investigation. Although perceptual features of the data influenced initial approaches to attribute selection, considerations of the problem situation influenced a shift from the perceptual and towards consideration of attributes such as taxonomy, habitat, behavior, and diet. Expertise in the data context (animal kingdom) and ability to collaborate and negotiate within groups supported children in their ability to switch attributes, attend to multiple situations presented by the problem, and modify and extend their categorizations of data.

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    The children appeared unaware that polar bears are arctic animals and penguins reside in a number of regions (typically the southern hemisphere, sometimes Antarctic, and sometimes residing in tropical islands). They are not all cold weather birds.


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We gratefully acknowledge the work of all reviewers and editors of this manuscript who invested their time and energy in providing insightful and constructive feedback on earlier versions of this paper.


The research was supported by a faculty seed-funding grant [SF16-101] from Mary Immaculate College.

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Correspondence to Aisling Leavy.

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Leavy, A., Hourigan, M. The role of perceptual similarity, context, and situation when selecting attributes: considerations made by 5–6-year-olds in data modeling environments. Educ Stud Math 97, 163–183 (2018).

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  • Data modeling
  • Attribute selection
  • Statistical inquiry
  • Young children
  • Teaching mathematics
  • Statistics
  • Elementary education