Infographics & Gapminder

It’s easy to speak of success in broad strokes: “America has a strong economy,” “America is powerful.” But how can we define success more clearly? This is an essential question of my World History courses, and to help students both define success and visualize what that looks like over time I use at the beginning of the year to introduce the question to them. Gapminder takes statistical data from the past 200 years and charts it two-dimensionally. It follows visual hierarchy rules by distinguishing countries by size and color, and can animate its charts to show how statistics change over time. Here’s a great demo:

In this exercise, students analyze visual sources and construct their own definitions about success. First, I demonstrate how to use the Gapminder website, then give students a worksheet so they can engage in independent but guided investigation. Once students have had a chance to look at various indicators, I ask them to define success – do we want a country with high literacy rates? Long life expectancy? A high GDP per capita, or a high overall GDP? A low corruption index? This is where having an IWB works well – students can pull up Gapminder at the front of the room and single out countries for the class to illustrate their point.

Here’s another example of an infographic useful in studies of modern American immigration:

Reason magazine

I’d give students the profiles of four or five people, and ask them to calculate based on the infographic how long it would take them to become American citizens. Then, I’d ask them to reflect on whether they think American immigration policy is effective, and what they would change, if anything.

6 thoughts on “Infographics & Gapminder”

  1. Combining IWBs with Gapminder is a great idea! It gives everybody a chance to be Hans Rosling in front of the class!

    I always think of Gapminder as more of a four-dimensional model as it allows you to plot the two variables on the vertical and horizontal, plus the size of the dot, and then have a look at how it all changes over time! It’s an amazingly powerful visualizer, though one I haven’t seen utilized well in my school yet.

    Have you seen improvements in the ways that your students synthesize information now that you are using a more visual approach?

    1. Yes – as form a differentiation, the content becomes accessible to a wider range of students, especially those who are disinclined to read. I’m not sure whether I should be accommodating that tendency or fighting it, though.

  2. Matt, Congratulation on a great blog.
    I enjoy your writing. I love the infographics you have incorporated into you own blog. Unlike you, I am a number and picture guy. I would much rather look at graphs and pictures than text, your blog has inspired me. Thanks for the Gapminder idea, as I begin a statistics unit with one of my math classes I’m excited to dive into it. I’m sure my students will enjoy seeing the numbers come to life as yours did. Cheers.

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