Let's Get Visual 

"Vision trumps all other senses"
Dr. John Medina, author of Brain Rules 

What's an Infographic?

Infographics (commonly also called data visualizations) are visual representations designed to quickly, and often beautifully, explain complex information and data in a manner that makes it easy to digest and understand. They are becoming increasingly common and are being used by journalists, designers, scientists, mathematicians, teachers, and others who need to communicate concepts clearly and succinctly.  Infographics can feature combinations of pictures, charts, diagrams, graphs, tables, maps, lists, time lines, flowcharts, and more.  

The power a well crafted infographic has to simplify complicated and elaborate information is nothing short of amazing and it is quite possible that they have become the data equivalent of the age old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”.  Given the real world uses of infographics it is imperative that classroom teachers begin incorporating these 21st century informational devices into their classroom practices. Indeed, it is quite possible that to be considered data literate in the modern world, students need to be able to read, interpret and ultimately create infographics... this is a truly 21st century skill.

Why use Infographics with students?

 Teachers who have started incorporating infographics have discovered that a good infographic will not only inform students, but will also pique their interest in the subject matter and become an essential element to a inquiry-driven classroom, causing students to not only ask critical questions and become more data aware, but to feel empowered to actively look for answers by creating visual representations of the data and information that they see all around them. The addition of the visual element is good for student learning.  Research has shown that students' retention is boosted 42 percent when they have appropriate illustrations (Mayer, 2009). 

An educator, speaking in a recent NY Times Blog post summarized infographics this way, “Infographics work in the classroom because they grab students and allow an entry point to learning — and because they sum up pages and pages, even chapters, of information that would take a reader hours to process.“

Creating Infographics

While it is important for students to be able to read and interpret visual representations of information, educators need to take the essential next step of teaching students how to create their own infographics.  Creating a well done data infographic can, and should, be a blending of science, math, language, graphic design, creativity and much more.  The process of creating infographics provides teachers with a practical, real-world purpose for using classroom technology to solve problems.  Additionally, the higher order thinking required to create an infographic is staggering.  Meaningful, creative and fun activities, such as creating compelling infographics, will undoubtedly cause the information students have studied and research to “stick” and stay stuck long after the activity has ceased.

Both consuming and producing infographics provides a strong instructional purpose for the use of technology in the classroom resulting in an increased teacher perception regarding the usefulness of technology and increasing teacher computer self-efficacy.   Even if teachers don’t make the leap to having students create their own infographics there is still so much value in exposing them to this expressive medium and preparing them to read data presented in ways other than basic line graphs, pie charts and table forms.  Merging technology with real world data, critical thinking and a touch of creativity (ok, more than a touch) can result in the creation of infographics that become a powerful way for students to learn and access data while creating meaningful learning experiences and sustained technology usage for teachers and students alike.



Additional Resources

  1. David McCandless' TED talk - The beauty of data visualization. 
  2. 200 Years that Changed the World - Hans Rosling makes it look easy.  Look at this version too (it's the same data but totally stunning in it's creativity and effectiveness). 
  3. Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School (BOOK) - but the website and the "illustrated" rules are worth checking out too.
  4. The Evolution of Privacy on Facebook
  5. If It Was My Home - visualizing the BP oil spill
  6. Immigration Explorer - where in the USA have immigrants settled?  Shows change over time.
  7. This Is Indexed - love the simplicity of these, all you need is an index card (and a clever mind) to make a compelling infographic.
  8. How Big Really - takes current and historical events (and buildings) and places them on a google map.
  9. Product of Slavery - shows what countries make products that are created with child and forced labor.


Some of my Favorite Infographics & Visualizations 

There are a lot of them out there... I've managed to narrow it down to my (current) favorite, and I'm counting them down like Casey Kasem... you can (and should) click to enlarge them.


9. & 8.) Sharing and Your Comfort Zone - both of these from the excellent This Is Indexed blog.  The first one speaks to blogging, right?  The second one, maybe why people don't blog.


7.) What do teachers think about the best way to measure student performance? - Clearly there is a disconnect somewhere between the top (decision makers) and the bottom (teachers).

6.) Food for Families - Spend some time with this one... what do you notice about amounts & quantities?

5.) Bloom's Revised Taxonomy - a nice chart full of "active" words that help explain the revision to Bloom's taxonomy.

4.) Privacy & The Internet Venn Diagram - the simplest explanation I've ever seen.  Powerful.


3.) What if the Largest Countries had the Greatest Populations - I love the creativity on this one.  I freaks you out a bit but in no time I was looking on wikipedia for more information about some of these places.

2.) World Factbook Dashboard - This interactive visualization allows you to explore statistics about population, economics, health issues and more.  I wish the colors were a bit more differentiated but it is amazing.  Open it and start clicking away.


1.) 50 Years of Space Exploration - This is as beautiful as it is informative.  Anyone who is interested in space will really enjoy this.  I need to get a large version of it for school.