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!

Tablets or Laptops? Ask the Right Questions.

Ok, it's Spring, so let's make the assumption that this is the year the money tree behind the school finally blooms.  So, do you buy every student a laptop or a tablet?*  This question is being bantered around all over the country (money tree or not).  Here is what I think... it's the wrong question.

Here is what we should be asking... what do we want our students (and teachers) to do?  What do we want them to create? What problems do we want them to solve?

Once we answer these questions, the solution of which tool to purchase should be obvious.  The thing is, I think that sometimes we get a little too excited about all the things the tools can do that we don't fully answer these questions.

For me, and as much as I love my iPad as a learning device, I think the only answer right now is the laptop (at least for kids older than 3rd grade). Basically, I don't think that the range of things that we want students to be able to do can be completely covered by a tablet... yet.  I readily concede that things are changing... but it might be five or 10 years before the switch really happens.

Here are a few of my other reasons:

 

  • You can create a wider variety of content on the laptop and can consume content much more easily, too.
  • I think the lifespan of the laptop will be longer than the tablet
  • Text editing is easier on the laptop (try editing a paper on an iPad only... ick)... sure you can buy a keyboard, but if you want your tablet to be a laptop, buy a laptop.
  • You can only do iBooks Author and write iOS apps on a Mac
  • The MacBook Air has a great battery life
  • You can lease a laptop
  • Kids may already have their own mobile devices, so open up BYOD.  Why buy them things they might already have?

 

* In my head this means MacBook Air or iPad.  Why these two?  They are, in my opinion, the top of the heap when it comes to portability, versatility, reliability, community, and overall cost of ownership.  I really don't see the point in buying non-Apple devices at this point (of course, I always say this).

FV #31 - Failure and Learning

Today's visual is from Indexed.  Indexed is a blog by Jessica Hagy where she posts an visual every weekday.  Her visuals are always on index cards.  Here is hers for today:

I'm sure every educator will recognize the importance of failure as a learning aid.  I won't get all political about the whole "failure is not an option" thing.  

Related to the topic of failure, I was reading a letter from F. Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter over on the Letters of Note blog just the other day where Mr. Fitzgerald provided this advice to his (then 11-year old) daughter:

Don't worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault

I like that too.

Two things here for teachers:

 

  1. I've always thought that students should try to create their own "Indexed" visuals related to their studies... could be a great assessment device
  2. The Letters of Note blog can be a wealth of resources for Language Arts and Social Studies teachers. 

 

FV #30 - 32+ Tools to Grow Your PLN

I've been researching Personal/Professional Learning Networks (PLNs) and Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) for some presentations on which I've been working.  There are some great visuals out there that relate to these concepts. 

Among the most frequently referenced visuals that relate to PLNs are these by Alec Couros (part of his doctoral dissertation).  I like the simple, yet explanatory, nature of these.  When I shared them with some colleagues I think it really helped them understand the scale and the collaborative nature of the "Networked" vs. the "Non-networked" teacher.

It got me thinking about the tools I use to facilitate my learning environment (the visual on the right).  So, I did an audit of the digital tools I use and came up with this list of 32+ tools you can use to grow your PLE. Naturally, some of these can fit into multiple categories but I placed them where I think I use them the most. I use Evernote for so much that I put it off on the side since it could probably fit into 50% of those other categories.  I should stress that I use plenty of non-digital tools as well... for example, much of my colleague interaction takes place face-to-face.

I may have missed a couple but I think it's pretty complete.  It may look like a lot but I don't use all of them every day.  To be honest the core of my PLE is made up of:

  1. Google Reader/RSS (& Reeder on iOS)
  2. Twitter (follow me @edulicious)
  3. Delicious (my bookmarks... you can follow this too)
  4. Evernote
  5. Dropbox (what's dropbox?)

To refine even further, Google Reader and Twitter are probably the two places I learn from the most (more precisely, gather knowledge and information... my brain does the learnin', right?) and I would suggest people start there.

Here are links to all of them:

Colleagues

  •  Email - Amazing how this is still the primary tool I use for communication and sharing with colleagues... I'm working to change that!

 Popular Media

Print & Digital Resources

Family/ Local Community

Blogs

Wikis

Video Conferences 

Chat/IRC

Social Networking Services

Online Communities

 Social Bookmarking

Digtal Photo Sharing

Microblogging

 Curriculum Documents

FV #29 - Major Leaguer

Knowing how geeked out I get about data visualizations, my school's librarian Ms. Eskin (she'll be blogging and tweeting soon!) brought me a present the other day... a book (naturally).

Now, I'm not a huge baseball fan but I like statistics and visuals... of which this book has plenty of both (and I can appreciate good storytelling, too - which this book has, too).  But since baseball season is upon us it seemed an appropriate book to talk about.  Let's take a look at a few of them that jumped out at me as particularly interesting. (clicky, clicky on them to make them bigger)

 
 
 

Now these are not very complicated visuals (but they are effective), and that is what I like about them.  There is no doubt that this type of visual could easily be created by students. Math teachers should have a field day with the amount of historical and current data that is available over at MLB.com.  I mean, there is a lot of math and research required to figure out how much money a season's worth of "stolen" bases are worth.  Then, you just need to fire up a graphics program or PowerPoint (which is what I would have the kids use) and create a visual.  

If you are interested, Craig Robinson has more complicated visuals available too.  I love this one... the team in RED won the world series and the position of the other teams (above or below them), indicates the relative payroll.  So, you ca see at a glance how impressive the 2003 champion Florida Marlins team was (say compared to the 1996, 1999, 200 or 2009 Yankees).  You could show this to students and just ask them what they notice... what inferences could they make...?

Like all great visuals, these visuals provide a depth of understanding and meaning that would be difficult to achieve with just words and numbers. This sort of data would be so hard to communicate without a well-crafted visual.

Many of the book's visuals (but not all of them) can be found on the author's blog.  The book is available on Amazon (and probably in book stores too assuming those still exist when you are reading this post).  So, if you (or someone you know) like baseball, statistics, or visualizations (or any combination of those)... you might want to check this book out.  

A Skill set That Never Expires

You've got to hand it to Seth Godin, he often makes you think.  A few days ago he had a post titled "The Map Has Been Replaced By The Compass" where he makes the case that the compass is more important than the map because the usefulness of the compass never changes.

The map keeps getting redrawn, because it's cheaper than ever to go offroad, to develop and innovate and remake what we thought was going to be next. Technology keeps changing the routes we take to get our projects from here to there. It doesn't pay to memorize the route, because it's going to change soon.

The compass, on the other hand, is more important then ever. If you don't know which direction you're going, how will you know when you're off course?

And yet...

And yet we spend most of our time learning (or teaching) the map, yesterday's map, while we're anxious and afraid to spend any time at all calibrating our compass.

To me what he is really talking about is uncertainty.  In an uncertain world, with an uncertain future, you better make sure you are prepared with the right tools and skill set for whatever the future has in store for you.  As educators, our job is to prepare students for success in this uncertain world.

How do we prepare students for a future that we can't predict even a couple of years out? How do we prepare students for jobs that don't yet exist? The answer is simple... we provide them with a skill set that will never expire; we provide them with a compass. What skills are these? Well, the Workplace Readiness Skills for the Commonwealth are a very good starting point. These 21 skills (divided into three broad categories) include such timeless skills as:

  • Integrity
  • Teamwork
  • Creativity and Resourcefulness
  • Speaking and listening
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Lifelong Learning
  • Time, Task and Resource Management
  • Customer Service
  • Internet Use and Security

I think the list is really great. I don't mean to imply that having an academic skill set is not important, because it is.  I just think that we emphasize academic skills to the detriment of the applied skills.  We need to do both and we need to do so in a balanced manner.  I hope that as some of the innovation-stifling aspects of NCLB (where declarative knowledge is king) are finally coming to an end that teachers can get back to creating environments where students will be able to acquire some of these applied skills. 

FV #28 - Facilitating Critical Thinking By Using Visualizations

Mr. Kelly is a teacher at my school (in fact, he's already featured on this blog way back in FV#6).  He's a big fan of visualizations and he recently developed an activity for his students that featured some excellent interactive data visualizations.  For me, the best part of his lesson is that he challenged his students to not only view the visuals but to interpret and analyze the data, discern the purpose, and think critically about the data presented. 

He started by presenting his students with a list of interactive visuals.  Each student selected one visual to investigate in greater detail.  While they conducted their investigation, they were presented with a series of questions they needed to answer.  Some of the questions were pretty basic:

Why did you choose it?

What made it interesting to you?

What does the graph show you?

What variables does it allow you to manipulate?

These questions were really just the icebreaker, many of them really required some meaningful thought (and, you'll notice, they have no single correct answer):

What's the most suprising piece of information on the graph?

What's one question you would like to ask the creator of the graph?

What are two questions you think might be used to test if someone has understood the information on the graph?

As Mr. Kelly illustrated with his lesson, getting students to be active consumers of data visualizations can be a fantastic way to get them thinking and a simple way to do it!  Now, we have to get them creating them some of these.

You can view the document that Mr. Kelly shared with his students here (contains links to all the visuals and more questions).

 

FV #27 - Subway Visuals

Who doesn't like a good subway style map?  The simple, clean interface... the colorful lines... the visual usefulness (it's not just me here, right?).  

Today's Friday visual asks a question: What if you apply this subway-style design to other areas?  For example, what if the US Interstate system was drawn like a subway map?

click to enlarge

Pretty cool, right? How does this visual representation change how we view the vast interconnected network of roads in the USA?  Now, what if you applied this "subway method" to other, more disparate concepts, like:

All of those are pretty clever and amazing.  The Cool Infographics blog has even more examples, so check those out too.  If you are like me, it got me thinking about how I could have students make subway map visuals to help conceptualize and understand the things that they are studying.  I came up with a couple of ideas. 

  • They could create story maps that show events in the primary characters' story lines and how they intersect with each other.  Each character would be his or her own line.
  • They could make connections between grammar concepts (nouns, adjectives, adverbs, etc.).
  • Teachers could create a subway map syllabus that shows what's happening and how those concepts connect.
  • You could create subway map timelines.

I like the timeline idea so I took a few minutes to mock up a sample timeline that looks at some of the events surrounding WWII.  Click the image to enlarge it a bit.

 

I'll be honest, making the visual (I simply used PowerPoint) was really easy.  I looked at the Virginia SOLs for Social Studies as I worked on this (this activity, in part, would nail the USII.7a).  I think that if I add a couple other Allies (England and Russia) as well as Italy it could be really interesting looking.  It might have too many connections but I won't really know that until sketch it out a bit.  I would absolutely suggest that student tackle this activity on paper first before trying to make it on the computer. The whole thing could be done on paper, actually, but I think the results would be nicer using the computer.  I would expect there to be some design challenges but that would be part of the fun anyway. 

I'm really pleased with the idea of using this subway map idea with students.  Someone should give it a try and share with me the results.

Get 5 GB Bonus Dropbox Space...

Now that's an attention grabbing headline, right?

Dropbox is currently beta testing a new feature that will automatically import image and video files from your smartphone, digital camera, or mobile device.  As a reward for participating in this testing, they are giving you up to 5 GBs of free, bonus space.

I've been trying it out for a few days and really think the service is slick.  To get started, head over to this Dropbox forum and install the latest Dropbox client for your OS.  Once you've successfully installed that, simply plug in your device to your computer.  I received a prompt that asked if I wanted to import my media from my device (iPhone).  From there on out, the images and videos automatically import when I connect my phone to the computer.  

I received 500MB free space on my first import and have received 500MB additional space for every 500MB I've imported (2GB so far). 

I have always felt that Dropbox is such a simple way to share and backup content.  This new service is no exception, it just works and totally in the background.  Try it out.

If you still need a Dropbox account, use this referral code and we'll both get even more extra bonus space. 

FV #26 - Extreme Makeover: Teacher Edition

This recent article over on GOOD Education made me think a lot about the symbols we use to define teaching. To illustrate, try this... what visual symbols pop into your head when you think about teachers and the teaching profession?

If I had to venture a guess it would be things like an apple, a one room schoolhouse, and a chalkboard with 2+2 or ABC written on it, right?

Do a Google Images search on teacher or teaching and you will see that you're in good company. Could ditching these ubiquitous symbols of the teaching profession help reframe the way we think about teachers, teaching and education in general?


That's the goal of Teach, a rebranding effort by New York City-based design firm Hyperakt to create "a new visual vocabulary" that more accurately reflects the sophisticated work 21st century educators do.


The goal of these talented designers was to:


be a part of reframing the intellectual and creative work teachers do...to capture the excitement and magic of activating the potential that is innate in every student.


Whoa, I like the sound of that. Did They succeed? I selected a few of their designs that caught my eye but there are many more over on Teach website (they are encouraging teachers to download and use the images in the classroom).

I think the designs are wonderful and certainly plan on printing some of them out. However, I'm left with this lingering question (the skeptic in me always comes out to balance my hope). Do these designs accurately represent the current state of teaching and education or are they idealistic representations of where so many of us want teaching to be? We want education to produce forward-thinking, globally connected, creative, analytical individuals, but is this what is actually happening? Or is the classroom of today, despite all the promises of modern teaching and digital tools, still more like the classroom of 50 years ago where the apple was the symbol of teaching and the teacher was the center of the classroom?

Changing the symbols we use to represent our profession is a worthy undertaking, but it might be like a new coat of paint on an old, junk car. Until the underlying structure is rethought, redesigned, and rebuilt, what's the point?

I do like the fact that the symbol is abstract, it projects the concepts of connectedness, relationships, and process. I think that this captures a huge part of what education (learning) should be all about and it allows for a visual vocabulary that reflects the multidimensional role of the teacher in a way that an apple simply cannot. Basically, these designs have deep meaning.

I'm less thrilled with the connect the dots metaphor. In this classic children's game, the dots are pre-printed on the page, and the image is already determined. If children don't connect the dots in the presribed order, they won't be successful. Education is not about teachers leading children to pre-determined places, it's about children creating their own paths, it's about ambiguity and vagueness and how to handle both. Education, like learning itself, is not a simple connect-the-dots activity.

All in all, I love the idea of re-branding the profession. In many ways this is way overdue. Teaching today can be dynamic, creative, active, interconnected, bold and exciting. Now, if only our federal policies could be reworked to capture the same messaging.

Again, check out the great printables on their website and make sure to look at their presentation to really get a glimpse at how they worked through the thinking and design process (this would be useful to show students).

I'll exit this post with some questions:


  • Is teaching a brand?

  • Is a makeover needed? Will a makeover work?

  • Who is the customer/audience for these "advertisements"?

  • What would you change about the designs?

  • Assuming that these designers have not been teachers, how do you think they did?

  • Do you think that these designs capture what it means to be a teacher?

  • Are they worthy of replacing the traditional symbols of the teaching profession?


Finally, I think that it would be a great project-based learning activity for students to periodically rethink various cherished symbols. Maybe you could even set students to the task of rebranding education from a student point of view.

 

FV #25 - The Problem of Big Numbers

We humans have a problem with big numbers. Some of my favorite visuals help us understand big numbers in a way that we could never fully describe with words. Today's visuals are a compilation of a few of my favorite "Big Number" visuals.

1. Obama Budget Cuts Visualization - $100 million dollars sounds like a lot of money (and it is, right?). But what does a $100 million look like visualized against the budget of the USA? This simple, but very clever video answers this question.

2. US Debt Visualized - This powerful visual really puts into scope how much debt we we have here in our wonderful country. What if you used $100 bills to create a stack of money equivalent to our debt? Since we were talking about $100 million dollars earlier... here is your tease... I really don't want to spoil it for you! Click the image to see the full chart.

3. If The World's Population Lived in One City - 7 billion people, that's a lot. Hard to imagine that many people in one place. This visual does just that. It uses the population density of a few of the world's major cities to show how much space 7 billion people would take up if they all lived in the United States. Paris, for example:

4. Star Size Comparison - Our Sun is massive right? How big is it compared to other stars floating around in space?

BTW, YouTube and the web are full of these space comparisons, so if you liked that video, check out this one and this webpage too.

I've been thinking about why these visuals are so powerful. I think because they help conceptulize something very abstract (huge numbers) with something familar (pennies, dollar bills, etc.). And they accomplish this with almost no words at all (unlike this blog post). Amazing!

Now, most of these visuals really drove home how big "big" can be. However, the population visual made me think that 7 billion people is smaller than I ever would have thought... but it really hammered home just how large of a place our planet is (which, I now know that compared to VY Canis Majoris, it really isn't).

For all you math teachers out there, I'm curious how much our debt (or GDP) weighs. Can you have some of your students figure that out for me?

As a bonus... I know I've mentioned this video before, but if you haven't watched David McCandless at TED and you like the whole visualization thing, you should watch it.









The Origins of Innovation

Innovation seems to be the buzzword du jour these days and why not, innovative companies (or those perceived as innovative) are hot these days (Apple, Google, Facebook, et al.) and those that aren't (Microsoft, Yahoo!, RIM, et al.) seem to be dying a slow death.  So, innovation is good (duh)

Why does one organization seem to be innovative while others mire away in the status quo until they obsolesce?    Can the spirit of innovation be infused into a culture that maybe doesn't really have it? Where does innovation come from?

Well most of those questions are way outside the scope of this post but I came across a neat article in today's USA Today where the question of how do you (and can you) promote more innovation came up.  Anyway, it made me think.

After an interesting parable about the invention of the Post-it note came this tasty tidbit:

if you want to innovate in your business, then consider giving your staff the time and ability to do just that

I know what you are thinking... time is the one thing we don't have.  Whether or not this lack of time is real or perceived this is worth talking about.  Some major players make considerable effort to ensure that their employees have time to tinker.  

3M has a policy that allows everyone in the company to pursue what they call "15% time projects." That is, everyone at 3M is allowed to use 15% of their time to follow their muse and innovate. This policy has been in effect since 1948 and has resulted in products ranging from clear bandages to painter's tape that sticks to the edge of a wall to prevent paint bleed.

Maybe not surprisingly, this sort of policy has become a hot topic for innovative businesses. For instance, Google has a similar policy: It allows employees to use up to 20% of their time to innovate and think outside the box*. Amazon has something similar, too.

How amazing is it that these companies are willing to allow their employees to spend time on initiatives that may never result in anything that ever generates revenue (although might generate other positive benefits).  I've often wondered if this type of "innovation time" could work in education.  Can you imagine a regular time to get together with like-minded teachers and solve learning problems, develop new instructional strategies, or gain some new skills?  

Maybe I'll try to incorporate this when I start my own school...

What do you think? About the innovation thing, not about me starting my own school.

 

* Google does some other interesting things too... 

Google works from the bottom up. If you have a great technical idea, you don’t have your V.P. send out a memo telling everybody to use it. Instead, you take it to your fellow engineers and convince them that it’s good. Good ideas spread fast, and this approach keeps us from making technical mistakes. But it also means that the burden falls upon you to spread your idea. [1]

Maybe our schools need to be more bottom up too.  I'll file that away for later.

What's Was Your Literary Inspiration?

Where the Wild Things Are was originally going to be called Where the Wild Horses Are. The only problem was that as it transpired, Maurice Sendak couldn’t draw a convincing horse to save his life. 

Like many people I love a good back story.  I feel like knowing the inspiration behind something provides me with a richer, more multidimensional understanding of whatever it is that is being shared (this is one reason why I love the DVD commentary tracks for my favorite movies).  

Well, my friend Mr. Baxter shared out this story from the Atlantic about "The Unexpected Inspirations Behind Beloved Children's Books" and I found it really interesting (although more details would have been welcomed)

No doubt this would be great to share with Language Arts students of all ages.  Might launch an interesting discussion about where to find inspiration.  I'm sure librarians could think of a use for this information too (bulletin board?).

 

FV #24 - The Value of Video

Today's visual is a video from the very talented Dan Meyer, a very popular blogger who every educator should follow (math teachers for sure).  His posts usually make me think... a lot.

 This video amazes me for two reasons.

  1. The simplicity of it (and yet conveys so much)
  2. The conversation it would should start in a Math class

Regarding the use of video (a visual medium), Dan has this to say:

We can access that intuition with video by showing that small slice growing continuously into the big. How do you replicate that experience in print, a medium which does a bang-up job with static quantities but has something of a panic attack when those quantities change?

You should head over to his post about this video to see what he has to say about it and read the comments for additional insight (like what if the values changed, and it was $300 or $1000).

Visuals like this can get across so much, so quickly and with so few words.  You could totally create something like this in a program like PowerPoint or Keynote. Very cool!

If this one interested you, you might want to look at his other videos located over on Vimeo. Here are two more for fun... the first one is math related...

 

This one should just make you think.

 

FV #23 - What Percent Are You?

Ok, I'm a bit fascinated by the OccupyDC and OccupyWallStreet protests.  Of course, one of the underlying causes is rooted in the feelings of greed and corruption by the affectionately named 1% to me (and probably you) over here in the 99%.

So, in the spirit of this, today's visuals are all about money. As always, enjoy.

What Percent Are You?

This visual is simple.  Enter your income and see your (relative) percent from regions all over the United States.  I used average teacher salaries in my example - I used twice the highest average salary (California at $59,825) to simulate a teaching couple).

As you can see, a household income of $120,000 gets you into the top 15% nationwide.  Fortunately, this map allows you to drill down a bit into your neck of the woods.  I live outside of Washington, DC and so $120,000 drops you into the top 33% category.  

Moving a couple of hours away into West Virginia, you'd get up to 7%.  Poor, devastated Flint, Michigan would up you to the top 4%.

Anyway, play around with the tool, enter additional incomes.  It's amazing to me that $500,000/year doesn't even get you into the top 1% in some parts of the US.  The rich-poor discrepancies in this country are really something.

This tool would be great to use when facilitating a discussion about the Occupy Wall Street movement.  I also think that it could be a nice device to use when talking about the value of money.

There has to be some math activities possible as well, right?  Just talking about how outliers really throw off averages could be of value, and we all know how statistics can be used to nefarious ends.

What Jobs Do They Have?

Ok, so there are some rich households out there.  What do all these people do for a living? Well, this next visual lets you know that... but it also uses color to let you know how many people in specific job fields are in the top 1%.  Also, the size of each box indicates the number of people in those positions at the very top income level.  Lots of information presented visually.  Very slick.

Lawyers are at the top of the heap.  According to this chart, if you are a lawyer, especially in the security, commodities, brokerage arena, there is a 33% chance you are in the top 1% (no wonder these guys are major targets for the Occupy Movement)

 Now one thing immediately caught my eye... how could teachers possibly be on this chart?  The site explains that...

Sweet.  We're poor, we got it (but some of us were smart enough to marry up)!  Use the Zoom In, Zoom Out and Full Screen options to really give this chart a good look through.  It's interesting.

FV #22 - Candidate Match Game

A major election year always bring fantastic visuals.  I'm sure this year will be no exception.  USA Today has one that is visual and interactive...

Called the "Candidate Match Game", this visual has you answer 11 questions to find the candidate "most like you..."  I will say that it is pretty basic and I found myself wanting for more answer options on some of the questions (you know, some of them just didn't accurately portray my beliefs).  However, it is still fun and you should give it a try... no one will hold you to your choice.

A couple of tips:

  • Use the sliders on the left hand side to "weigh" the importance of the issues.
  • The size of the colored bars indicate the strength of each candidate's match on the issues.
  • The game may end before you answer all the questions if there is a strong match

Unfortunately, there is no Charles Nelson Reilly... sorry.