Directions for teachers:

Ask students to read the online Science News article “How mindfulness-based training can give elite athletes a mental edge” and answer the first two sets of questions with a partner. Note that these questions can be used to analyze data visualizations in any Science News article. If you are using these questions with a different article, have students use the data visualization worksheet.

Once students have finished answering the first two sets of questions, lead a class discussion using the third set of questions. A version of the article, “Mental gymnastics,” appears in the January 29, 2022 issue of Science News

Want to make it a virtual lesson? Post the online Science News article and video link to your virtual classroom. Discuss the article and questions with your class on your virtual platform.

Why use data visualizations?

Discuss and answer the following questions with a partner.

1. How would you define a data visualization? Give examples of different types of data visualizations.

A data visualization is the graphic organization and representation of a set of data. Common types of visualizations are charts, graphs, maps and diagrams.

2. What is the purpose of a data visualization? Why are they helpful?

A data visualization allows people to quickly interpret patterns, trends and outliers in data. Especially with big data sets, visualizations allow an opportunity for people to quickly make informed decisions based on the data.

3. In what fields and careers are visualizations important? Give a couple examples.

Many career fields use data visualizations. For instance, STEM fields use visualizations to summarize research findings; professional sports use them to monitor player performance, game strategy and analysis; businesses use visualizations to summarize sales and market trends over time.

4. Aside from the type of data visualization, what features of a visualization can influence how the data is interpreted?

Colors, shapes, titles, legends and figure keys can influence how a visualization is interpreted.

Data at a glance

Answer the following set of questions for all the data visualizations in the Science News article.

1. What information is being portrayed by the data visualization? Define the type of visualization, the measured variables shown within it and the axes where applicable.

Student answers will vary. For “Prevalence of mental health issues in elite athletes,” students could say that it is a table that shows the percent of elite athletes who report different mental disorders.

2. Pick out two data points from the visualization and state them along with their units. How does the visualization help you to compare the data points? Explain.

Student answers will vary. As an example, in the “Prevalence of mental health issues in elite athletes” table, 14.6 percent of elite athletes report that they face “generalized anxiety disorder.” Between 4 percent and 68 percent of elite athletes report depressive symptoms. The table organizes the disorders and the percent of elite athletes affected, so you can easily compare the percentages.

3. State the general trend or take away from the visualization. How certain are you of this summarizing message? Explain your reasoning based on the number of outliers or error bars given, the fit of a trendline, the consensus of all the other data presented, etc.

Student answers will vary. As an example, students may say that the general takeaway from the “Prevalence of mental health issues in elite athletes” table is that mental health disorders in elite athletes are more common than people might think. However, the ranges given for disorders are so large that interpreting the overall message may be challenging.

4. Where do the data in the visualization come from? Does the source look credible? How can you tell?

Student answers will vary. For example, the data in the “Prevalence of mental health issues in elite athletes” table appears to come from a scientific study in a journal focused on sports medicine, which probably is a reliable source. To investigate further, and to see, for example, if the study is peer-reviewed, students could find the study online by clicking the link in the citations at the bottom of the online Science News article.

5. What other questions do you have about the visualization? In your opinion, did the visualization present data in a clear, effective way?

Student answers will vary. For the “Prevalence of mental health issues in elite athletes” table, students might say they want to know that percent of the general population is affected? Why are there such large ranges of percentages for some disorders and more precise percentages for others? The table is clear, but the data within raise a lot of additional questions.

Mental health toolbox

Read the following questions individually and be prepared to discuss them with your class.

1. List a couple examples of psychological tools given in the article, then create a definition of a psychological tool based on your understanding of the article.

Mindfulness meditations, acceptance and commitment therapy, relaxation exercises, visualization and positive self-talk are psychological tools mentioned in the Science News article. Psychological tools are ways people can mediate their emotions and feelings to maintain or improve mental health.

2. In what areas other than sports could the psychological tools and practices described in the article be useful. Explain why you think they might help in these areas.

Student answers will vary.

3. How could you apply the psychological tools and practices that have helped elite athletes to your own life?

Student answers will vary.