Data analysis and visualization is big business as technology allows us to collect more and more information about every detail of day to day life. Whether it’s data from a Smartwatch on your wrist, an iPhone in your pocket or huge datasets collected by international organizations, the ability to collect, read and make use of vast amounts of information is key for anyone growing up in the information age. So how can we approach this complex topic with students? Enter, Google Public Data Explorer.
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A Quick Look
1. Visualizing data
Before jumping straight into Google Public Data Explorer with your class, take some time to discuss visualizing data. This could involve looking at infographics on topics that interest your students, playing with interactive visualizations or even getting crafty and creating your own visualizations on posters or on the board. From there the detailed manipulations that Google Public Data Explorer can perform will start making a lot more sense to your students.
2. Reading charts
One of the first steps to working with data is being able to read and comprehend charts and graphs. Start using some of the example datasets and different graph types to help students understand how lines, bars, plots and bubbles can be used to display vast amounts of information in clear and concise ways. The animations that Google Public Data Explorer uses to transition between changes in data can really help students make this connection.
3. Understanding real data
If your students are comfortable reading graphs and charts then it’s time to put their understanding to the test. Choose a relevant dataset from the Google Public Data Explorer collection and give your students some real-life open ended questions to answer. Encourage them to use the data as a starting point for further research. Have them use the charts and graphs to extrapolate and draw conclusions. Their answers should be well thought out and presented explanations of what the data implies, not straight single figures.
4. Data collection and composition
The next step for students, is to start thinking about how they can visualize and use their own data to draw useful and meaningful conclusions. For this, students need to think about how they should be collecting, collating and storing their data to import into tools like Google Public Data Explorer. This could be data from an in-class experiment, from public datasets or even imported from apps and websites they use.
5. Analyzing and sharing your own data
The final step and where you can really begin to utilize the amazing power behind Google Public Data Explorer, is by having your students import their own data. From here students can not only unearth fascinating correlations in their own findings, but they can also opt to make the data public and share it with the world!
Links and Next Steps
- Google Public Data Explorer How To – Guide from Google
- Living longer with fewer children – Example dataset
- Video explanation of ‘Living longer with fewer children’ dataset
- World Development Indicators – Example dataset
- Where will the next generation of software engineers come from? – Example dataset
- Demo video (11 min) – Video with an emphasis on classroom possibilities
- Mashable Infographic Collection – Popular infographics on just about anything
- The Guardian Data Blog – Interactive data visualization blog
- Large public datasets – Where to find public datasets
- Example lesson plan from University of Idaho
Feature image adapted from image courtesy of Flickr, justgrimes.