program screen capture from a data visualization tutorial

Interpreting Data Visualizations

It’s now de rigueur for news articles to be accompanied by a visualization of data. However, some of these are confusing and misleading.  Do your students know how to interpret and question these presentations?  To help you incorporate critical thinking skills into learning social studies material, every WorldView Software product has three tutorials to introduce your students to the world of data visualization:

  • Data Visualizations: Charts, Graphs, and Tables explains ways to present data, and why some forms are better than others: ease of reading, of interpretation, and of amount of information that can be conveyed can differ according to format.
  • Data Visualizations: Maps explores the way data can be mapped onto a spatial area or organized by relationship – it doesn’t necessarily have to be a geographic location – and how this is especially suited to particular types of data.
  • Finally, Data Visualizations: Use and Misuse examines some of the most common ways that data graphics can be misleading, in particular the role that scale plays in directing the eye.

Your students can then practice reading graphs and maps using the graphical Study Questions associated with the chapters and themes.  Once they feel confident, set them loose on some tremendous or visualizations such as Swedish statistician Hans Rosling’s Gapminder, which shows data for global development indicators, or these from Pew Research Center, which show data for the differences between the American public and scientist opinion on certain issues.

Then challenge them to use these and other data sets (such as those covered in our previous blog post Finding and Using Government Data), to unleash their creativity on their own visualizations — some of the best are truly works of art.  The image below is by artist Tatiana Plakhova, who writes “Because everything we see is biological, mathematical or geological information. It can also be cultural patterns or any other thing…That’s why I admire by math, because it’s everywhere and nowhere.”

detail from data visualization "Music is Math" by Tatiana Plakhova
detail from data visualization “Music is Math” by Tatiana Plakhova,

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Dr. Annelies Kamran is V.P. for Content and Product Development at WorldView Software, Inc.

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