Recently a lot of infographics have been coming my way, mostly via Facebook, I confess. The first one that caught my eye was this:
Sharks kill 5 humans per year, and humans kill 100 million sharks? Yikes!
Next I came across this one about vaccinations. Clearly infographics are not necessarily just about representing data in an easy-to-grasp way; they can be about making a political point. Stop hatin’ on sharks and eating shark fin soup, and vaccinate your kids!
Wikipedia defines infographics a bit more broadly than I’ve thought of them—they’re “any graphic visual representation of information, data, or knowledge,” including subway maps and traffic signs. However, related to depictions of data, specifically, this is what wikipedia has to say:
The basic material of an information graphic is the data, information, or knowledge that the graphic presents. In the case of data, the creator may make use of automated tools such as graphing software to represent the data in the form of lines, boxes, arrows, and various symbols and pictograms. The information graphic might also feature a key which defines the visual elements in plain English. A scale and labels are also common. The elements of an info graphic do not have to be an exact or realistic representation of the data, but can be a simplified version.
Many information graphics are specialised forms of depiction that represent their content in sophisticated and often abstract ways. In order to interpret the meaning of these graphics appropriately, the viewer requires a suitable level of graphicacy. In many cases, the required graphicacy involves comprehension skills that are learned rather than innate. At a fundamental level, the skills of decoding individual graphic signs and symbols must be acquired before sense can be made of an information graphic as a whole. However, knowledge of the conventions for distributing and arranging these individual components is also necessary for the building of understanding.
The first paragraph covers elements that we know make a good graph. But the second paragraph is more philosophical and has additional pedagogical implications. Graphicacy, what an interesting concept—”the capacities people require in order to interpret and generate information in the form of graphics”! The Common Core State Standards have an increased emphasis on understanding, modeling, and using statistics and probability, especially starting in grade 6. Learning and applying the fundamentals is one important step. But practicing interpreting and then creating infographics, to develop graphicacy, is another level you could take it to. This would not only support the explicit content standards related to statistics and probability, but also would support a number of the Standards for Mathematical Practice:
2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
4. Model with mathematics.
5. Use appropriate tools strategically.
6. Attend to precision.
And I’d argue that it’s an excellent step to take in engaging students as well. The study and creation of infographics would allow students to exercise statistical analysis, as well as art and aesthetic talents, argumentation, and critical thinking. If you’re interested in pondering more, check out this “Cool Infographics” blog, which shows and critiques infographics from various sources.
And speaking of “Using appropriate tools strategically”… I recently started planning for a webinar I’m giving in April on using TinkerPlots software to teach 6th grade CCSS Statistics and Probability standards, which explains why data representation is particularly on my mind. The information about that webinar isn’t posted yet, but you can always check out Key’s upcoming (and archived) webinars here. I was digging through some of our TinkerPlots activities and came across a fun one about analyzing fireworks injury data and making a public service announcement poster. At right is a graphic I came up with using the TinkerPlots data set, and below is an example of student work on this activity.
I recall when I was in the classroom that I’d sometimes have students bring in examples of graphs they’d found in the media, and we’d interpret and discuss them. That was a while ago, so they were always from newspapers and magazines, and we rarely came across anything as involved as many of the new infographics floating around the internet. I’d love to see how students rise to the challenge posed by these new models!