FV #35 - Lots to Look At

Information is Beautiful released their visualization awards shortlist a couple days ago and if you like visual stuff you will want to check it out.  Dozens of excellent visuals divided into six categories.  It's well worth spending some time exploring so check it out when you get a chance.  I have not scrutinized them all just yet but here are some of my favorites so far (click to enlarge).

From the Data Visualization category
I love the concept of this one. Simple and brilliant. 

Interactive Visualization
I really like the interactive ones.  I was amazed at how small our debt payments and foreign aid were as overall percentages of the total.

Data Journalism
This visual makes it easy to establish the fact that you should stay out of Central Park (at night I would imagine).  This graphic would be interesting if you could adjust based on time of day or even a time range.

Motion Infographic
I had higher hopes for these.  Don't get me wrong, they are interesting; I've just seen better.  This one is about Apple.

Tools or Website
Ok, these are going to be fun to explore.  

I think it is good to consume these and think about how you can use them with students.  Students need to learn how to consume data when it is presented visually and they need to gain proactice in creating data visuals. Using some of the tools listed on the Tools or Website list or reverse engineering how some of these others were created and using those toos.  So how do these inspire you?  What can you do with them?


FV #34 - Global Issues of Olympic Proportions

I'm an addict.

A junkie, even.

I can't get enough of these Olympics.  I'm staying up way too late to watch events where I already know the results.  I'm watching (and loving) events that if they are on any other time of year I don't even tune in* (hello rowing, volleyball, field hockey, etc.).  

In honor of these Olympic Games I bring you today's Friday Visual (which was brought to my attention by the wonderful site Very Short List but there is a more detailed article over here at Co.Design).  

In this set of visuals, graphic artist Gustavo Sousa uses the iconic Olympic rings to represent which continents have the most prisoners, HIV patients, McDonald's, and more.  Naturally, the relative size of each ring correlates to the relevant data points.  

You can view a static version of each visualization over at Mr. Sousa's appropriately named OceaniaEuropeAmericasAfricaAsia tumblr 

I had a couple of thoughts/issues regarding this visual (which, indecently, I like very much).

First, There is no key as to which color represents which continent.  I did a quick search and found that the traditional belief (clearly based on stereotypes) is that the colors of each ring correspond like this: blue for Europe, yellow for Asia, black for Africa, green for Australia and Oceania and red for the Americas.  But the visual didn't seem to comply with this scheme.  I did some additional research and according to the International Olympic Committee the colors don't represent any specific continents anyway:

On the Olympic flag, the rings appear on a white background. Combined in this way, the six colours of the flag (blue, yellow, black, green, red and white) represent all nations. It is a misconception, therefore, to believe that each of the colours corresponds to a certain continent.
Hey, who knew?  So, I did a little deductive reasoning by interpreting the visuals and figured that:
  • Red = Americas
  • Green = Asia
  • Yellow = Africa
  • Black = Europe
  • Blue = Oceania/Australia.  
This would be a great activity to do with students.  Have them figure out which colors represent which continent and have them back up why.  Although, it's also a good lesson to teach students to label their visualizations.

My second issue is that the creator (Mr. Sousa) provides no source as to where he procured the data to create this visualization.  Now, I have no reason not to believe the data as he visualizes it but call me old fashioned, I like to see the source.  This would be another good conversation to have with your students.

Finally, I was ready to call BS on the gun ownership visual.  After all, if there is one thing that the United States is good at it is owning guns.  So, the visual should be heavily skewed red.  But, I did some research on this too and... we are good at owning guns.  Reuters says we (i.e. civilians) own 270 million of them.  However, there are 875 million civilian owned guns worldwide (!).  Again, who knew... so, this visual appears to be accurate, too.  

gun ownership


So, other countries are gun crazy too... but we totally rule at McDonald's.  As always, I'm curious what you think about this one.


 *Let's be honest, these competitions ARE only televised once every four years for good reason.


FV #33 - Now I Feel Insignificant, Thanks.

A couple of years ago Cary Huang and his brother created this interesting "interactive" visualization of the scale of the the universe.  He recently updated and improved it with his Scale of the Universe 2 visual.  Learn about the scale of things by zooming in and zooming out.  It's certainly an improvement over the earlier version and worth looking at.  I especially like the interesting assortment of universe objects that the creators selected (and the fact that you can click on them to learn more).  

Clearly science teachers can use this when discussing space and molecules.  I think that math teachers can take advantage of the scientific notation, too.

Depending on your internet connection it can take a second or two to load.  Be patient.

If you like this one, you might like this video I shared a few months back too.

Let me know if you've come across any similar visuals.


Having Fun... A Prerequisite for Learning?

There is no doubt in my mind that learning should be fun*.  I get this overwhelming sense of excitement and a general giddiness when I'm learning something new.  Now, since school is a place of learning, it should be one of the most fun places on the planet, right?  Think about your own school.  Is it a fun place to be?  

This is just a thought that has been rattling around in my head but: is fun a pre-requisite for learning? 

Fun is a simple word and might be easily misconstrued.  I think for me it is synonymous with exciting, joyful, satisfaction and delight. Perhaps most of all, I equate fun with happiness.  I'm worried that school is no longer a fun place to be, or at least it's not as fun as it could be (for both teachers and students).  I read recently in the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher that only 44 percent of teachers surveyed reported being very satisfied with their jobs, compared with 59 percent in 2009.  If teachers are not satisfied with their jobs, it must be harder to create a fun environment, right?  

But, does learning need to be fun to be effective? I really think so.  Naturally, there is more to creating a meaningful learning environment than simply making it fun, but I contend that it is a critical ingredient.  I haven't done any research on this but looking back at my own experiences as a student the school activities I actually remember were all fun: Mrs. Okada's real-world economic activities, Mr. O'Leary's crazy physics experiment, and Mr. Snow's lively class simulations (and even more lively class discussions). I also remember that all of us were having fun... students AND teachers. Without a doubt I believe that fun learning activities are more memorable. Think back to your best learning experiences, did they contain an element of fun? I bet many of them did. 

So, what makes for a fun classroom environment? I brainstormed a few things.

  1. Let go of control - Nobody likes a control freak. Involve your students in decisions, let them be in charge sometimes. 
  2. Create a risk taking environment - Worrying about failure is stressful (i.e no fun).  Make sure students know that it's ok to make mistakes... as long as they learn from them.
  3. Use technology - Technology can unleash creativity... being creative is fun.
  4. Be a learner yourself - It provides great perspective and can be invigorating and motivating.  With the Internet you can learn just about anything, take advantage of it.
  5. Reflect a lot - How can you improve if you don't?
  6. Assess differently - You don't always have to give the kids a quiz or a test to see if they know something.
  7. Create some project-based learning activities - Hands-on, minds-on is fun.  Let the kids build & destroy... and everything in between.
  8. Make it relevant - Learning something without knowing why it is important is not fun.  
  9. Be Creative - Ample opportunities to be creative is fun for students and for you. Create activities that allow students to be creative.  Worksheets, by their very nature, are generally not fun. Always remember that the standards inform what we need to teach but don't dictate your instructional design.
  10. Be Empathetic - Put yourself in the shoes of your students... think "if I was a student in my classroom would this be fun?" Alternatively, "would I want to be a student in my class?"
  11. Laugh a lot - Fun and laughter go together.  Your classroom should be filled with laughter... yours and theirs.

Well, that's all I've got.  What do you think?

* I don't mean to imply that learning is not serious business.  The stakes are very high but I think it is possible to maintain the importance of what we do and still have fun.  The fun I experience when learning is different that the fun I have at a party or a roller coaster... but it is no less meaningful... or important.



FV #32 - That is Deep... 9 Traits of Good Visualizations

How crazy was James Cameron?  Our friends over at XKCD have brought out yet another informative web comic, this time focusing in on the depth of the Earth's oceans and lakes (among other things). Zoom in and take a look, it's really great.

This type of visual would be really simple to re-create (by you or students)... you could use paper and markers, construction paper, or PowerPoint.  

And now for the reflective portion of this post...

However, the value in this visual for me is that it got me thinking a bit about visuals and the characteristics of visuals that I happen to appreciate.  I put together a list of these thoughts... not all encompassing, just off the top of my head.  The best visuals are ...

1. Informative - The best visuals help me understand something better.  They are (mostly) self-explanatory and can break down a complex concept into something my pea brain can work with... even (maybe especially) if I don't really care about the content.

2. Accurate - Duh. 

3. Interesting - The topic can and should be interesting, but a few random bits of trivia in the mix can help spice it up.  In the visual above I learned that Emperor Penguins can dive really, really deep... crazy deep (although I still don't know why they do that), the Deepwater Horizon is also crazy deep, and that the Dead Sea is an amazing distance below sea level.


4. Data Visualizations - There are loads of lame, text heavy infographics out there... making it pretty with pictures really doesn't change the fact that I don't need an infographic representation of "iPads vs. Textbooks" to help me understand the issues.  Also, I hate scrolling down 10 pages with these...* the best visuals represent data and help me identify trends in that data.

5. Creative - I appreciate good design, but I'll take a creative visual over a well designed one any day of the week.

6. Humorous - I like visuals that make me chuckle.  I think they should (if appropriate) contain an element of humor.  Not forced humor, but creative, suble humor.  In the "Lakes & Oceans" visual above you can find some (of course, it's XKCD so that's expected).  I think humor can make the visual more memorable as well.

7. Offering something new - Due to James Cameron's historic dive to the Marianas Trench, there have been tons of visuals illustrating just how deep it is "down there".  All of these visuals look basically the same and show the trench as a steep, deep gash in the ocean floor.  This is the first visual I've seen that offered the Horizontal Scale... not only valuable information, but something I'd never seen before.

8. Not overwhelming - Too much is too much.  The best visuals have enough to keep me entertained and educated but don't get carried away.  I'm sure you've encountered examples of what I'm talking about. 

9. Relevant - I guess this is relative, but one of the reasons this "Lakes and Oceans" visual works is because James Cameron just went down there and its all fresh in our heads. 


BTW, if anyone can explain this to me, that would be great!