Data Plotting Software for HS Students

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Main Question or Discussion Point

I'm designing a course for 9th grade students that focuses on experimental methods in science. One topic that will come at the beginning of the course will be how to display experimental data graphically, including estimates of experimental error.

I'm looking for some advice about what software to train students on (probably a spreadsheet program, but it doesn't need to be). I'd like to train them in 9th grade on software that they would use throughout high school and beyond. Google sheets is so close to being adequate, but it does not easily allow for independent uncertainties to be displayed. There are a few workarounds, but they are clunky and I'd like to keep the instructions as simple as possible for 9th grade students. Also, horizontal error bars are not possible.

One issue is that many students use Chromebooks and so a significant number of students would need to access software in the cloud. Also, we don't have school computers any more so installing software at school is not an option.

I thought I had figured out a solution because Microsoft offers Office365 for free on Chromebooks that are under a certain size so the students who get their computers through the school would be able to access this for free. I just tried it myself and I was disappointed to see that there is NO error bar option in the online version of Excel. Apple's Numbers also doesn't have error bars as an option when accessed on the icloud drive. C'mon!

Of course, students can print and draw error by hand but that seems ridiculous with the ready access to technology that you'd think would be able to do what is usually so simple! This also makes online submission more difficult, but maybe I'll just have to settle for that.

So, if anybody has any suggestions I'd love to read 'em! I have exactly $0 to spend.

PS
One final thought that just came to me is to write some scripts in Python or R that students could change and use, but I'm not sure I like that idea yet. In terms of 'simple' this probably ranks below the google sheets workarounds though it would generate some slick looking student work.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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Your dollars will buy you the OpenOffice suite (freeware). I have not used it much but the spreadsheet seems equivalent to older EXCEL. I believe the clunkiness with error handling is similar but you can always add the error values as separate data columns. Also more automatic error handling is a two-edged sword......
 
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  • #3
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Thanks. I had forgotten about OpenOffice, but I used it years ago. I'll check with our IT guy to see if it is possible to run on our Chromebooks and play with it in the meantime.
 
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Yeah I use on windows
 
  • #5
kith
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Spreadsheet-based programs are probably better suited for your needs, but if you are really considering python have a look at colab from google . It's an online version of jupyter which fits nicely with the chromebook philosophy.
 
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  • #6
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Spreadsheet-based programs are probably better suited for your needs, but if you are really considering python have a look at colab from google . It's an online version of jupyter which fits nicely with the chromebook philosophy.
Cool. Thanks for that. Something worth considering for upper level students or those who are already into programming.

After some more investigating I'm inclined to suggest LibreOffice (still waiting to hear if it will work on the school-provided chromebooks) since OpenOffice doesn't feature horizontal error bars.

I appreciate the input!
 
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  • #7
gleem
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I just noticed that LibreOffice has a chart style for stock prices which includes the ability to display daily price ranges in a manner suitable for indicating uncertainties of data points.
 
  • #8
gleem
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This is the example of a LibreOffice stock style chart

Libre chart 1.png


The bottom of the vertical data symbol is the low price for the day, the upper limit is the high price and the horizontal line is the closing price so it is easy to configure them represent a mean and uncertainty
 
  • #9
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I just noticed that LibreOffice has a chart style for stock prices which includes the ability to display daily price ranges in a manner suitable for indicating uncertainties of data points.
But if you right click the data series (for a scatter plot and bar/column charts, at least) the options to add x and y error bars are right in the pop up menu.
 
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gleem
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Thanks, I didn't know that.>
 
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Graph paper is by comparison completely egalitarian. Plus the kids might develop a feel for numbers.

Crap, how did I end up being the old guy?
 
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  • #12
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Graph paper is by comparison completely egalitarian. Plus the kids might develop a feel for numbers.
For years now I have specifically not taught how to use technology for that very reason (except in my Physics II course for the purposes of numerical integration). The pendulum is swinging the other way I guess, but tech use is just one small piece of a major undertaking that I'm trying to spearhead to improve many aspects of our science sequence. I still will, of course, accept work that is graphed by hand.

Trust me, the emphasis I place on students understanding of 'the numbers' is paramount, but I'm not convinced that making a bar graph or scatter plot by hand has a great impact on it. I am convinced that learning basic spreadsheet use is something that every student will benefit from, and I suspect that many 9th grade students will appreciate the time they'll save and may find it more engaging than doing it by hand.
 
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  • #14
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@sysprog - Thanks, I had found that site but thought it required subscription. I see now that there are free options.
 
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  • #16
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You might also look at GeoGebra either online or locally
Lol. I have it (though I don't use it much). I overlooked that it has a spreadsheet build in every time I've opened it.
 
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  • #18
Dr Transport
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Crap, how did I end up being the old guy?

It happens, I just recycled aboput 20 packages of various graph paper left over from when I was an undergrad and the first foray into grad school in the '80's. I'm hiring kids who are my kids age right now. Crap, we are old.
 
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  • #19
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Consider the alternative.
Also I thank the the universe with each successive morning that I was born into this time and place. How could I have been so fortunate?
Then I check for body parts that may have fallen off........
 
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  • #20
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You can use https://www.wolframcloud.com. It is free as long as you don't run out the credits, and it supports the succinct wolfram language. In other words-- it is an online mathemtica.
1596486701606.png
 

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