# Helping Students Make Sense of Graphs: An Experimental Trial of SmartGraphs Software

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## Abstract

Graphs are commonly used in science, mathematics, and social sciences to convey important concepts; yet students at all ages demonstrate difficulties interpreting graphs. This paper reports on an experimental study of free, Web-based software called SmartGraphs that is specifically designed to help students overcome their misconceptions regarding graphs. SmartGraphs allows students to interact with graphs and provides hints and scaffolding to help students, if they need help. SmartGraphs activities can be authored to be useful in teaching and learning a variety of topics that use graphs (such as slope, velocity, half-life, and global warming). A 2-year experimental study in physical science classrooms was conducted with dozens of teachers and thousands of students. In the first year, teachers were randomly assigned to experimental or control conditions. Data show that students of teachers who use SmartGraphs as a supplement to normal instruction make greater gains understanding graphs than control students studying the same content using the same textbooks, but without SmartGraphs. Additionally, teachers believe that the SmartGraphs activities help students meet learning goals in the physical science course, and a great majority reported they would use the activities with students again. In the second year of the study, several specific variations of SmartGraphs were researched to help determine what makes SmartGraphs effective.

## Keywords

Computers Software Physical science Motion Scaffolding Graphs## Notes

### Acknowledgments

This research was conducted under National Science Foundation Grant No. DRL-0918522, awarded to the Concord Consortium (Carolyn Staudt, PI). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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