Which data is most helpful when making decisions?

Learn how to use data to make good scientific decisions.

Activity Image
30 mins
Class discussion


In this activity, your students will practice using criteria for deciding which data is the most appropriate for answering questions. Designed to nurture aspects of the Planning and conducting curricular competency, this activity can be easily applied to any science concept or content.


What you'll need

  • "Which data is the most useful?" handout, at least one copy per pair of students
  • "Assessing my ability to choose helpful data" rubric, one copy per student

  1. Organize your students into pairs and provide each group with a copy of the "Which data is the most useful?" handout. Begin the activity by asking your students to make a decision: If you were helping a homeowner decide if they should use solar panels to generate electricity for their home, which two pieces of data or information would be the most useful? Which two pieces of data or information would be the least useful?
  2. Briefly explain that making big decisions requires gathering evidence so we can be certain our decisions are thoughtful or wise. Often the evidence we need is presented as data for us to consider (data are facts or statistics), so we may need to select the best or most appropriate data. 
  3. Invite groups to share their decisions and thinking with the class. As they share, use their thinking to co-develop or present the criteria for helpful data. Helpful data is
    • Easy to understand
    • Relevant to the question 
  4. Consider recording and posting the criteria for use later in this activity. 
  5. Encourage students to revisit their initial decisions, this time using the criteria to guide their decisions about which data is the most and least helpful. Remind students that data can take many different forms and that they need to examine all aspects of the page to see where facts or statistics are stated.
  6. Invite each group of students to share one piece of data from the page (and not to repeat a piece of data already mentioned by other groups) until all data have been mentioned. 
  7. Now prompt groups to select the three pieces of data they believe are most helpful for the decision about using solar energy in a home. After pairs have selected their three pieces of the most useful data, ask them to join another group. 
  8. Encourage pairs to share the three pieces of data that they selected, then as a larger group decide which four pieces of data are most useful. The entire group should agree about which two of the six pieces of data are least important. Remind groups to use the criteria to guide their decision making. 
  9. Ask each group to now share their final selection of four pieces of data and thinking with the the class. 
  10. Conclude the activity by inviting students to suggest other situations where they might need to use data to support their decision making. In other situations where students are interacting with data, remind them to use the criteria for selecting helpful data to guide their thinking.

Curriculum Fit

Grade 5, 6 Science

Curricular competency

 Planning and conducting

  • Choose appropriate data to collect to answer their questions


  • Invite each student to complete a copy of the "Assessing my ability to choose helpful data" rubric
  • Evaluate students’ ability to clearly:
  • Select data that is easy to understand
  • Select data relevant to the question


Select the materials you require for this activity or download all

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