By Patricia Helmuth
What are Infographics and why should I use them?
Infographics are visual representations of information and graphics that combine in a way that captures interest, conveys complex information quickly, and enhances cognitive abilities, so there’s good reason to consider using them in your classroom (1999). When using interdisciplinary infographics, that are readily available on your computer and electronic devices, you can connect content knowledge, literacy skills, and numeracy skills into one lesson! Additionally, we help prepare our students for the real world when we challenge them to analyze and process information that is presented in infographics.
Where can I find interdisciplinary infographics?
A few suggestions on websites you can visit that have collections of infographics that can be used in the classroom are:
- New York Times: Teaching With Infographics/Places to Start
- The Mathematics Shed
- Infographics as a Creative Assessment
- Kids Discover Infographics
At the New York Times website noted above, there is a link to a Ted Talks video where David McCandless talks about data visualization and the important role that infographics play in our changing society. Whether you are new to infographics or already using them in your classroom, the 18 minutes it takes to watch the video is well invested as a way to build your own background knowledge of infographics.
How can I use infographics to contextualize instruction?
As an example, let’s examine how one can contextualize math. Consider the following infographic from Kids Discover Infographics. It provides a lot of information about the Electoral College, a timely topic, and it has lots of numbers that can serve to contextualize math. A suggested lesson plan follows the infographic.
1. Start a discussion by asking students what they know about the presidential election process in the United States. Write all their statements on a piece of easel paper. You will refer back to their statements after they’ve analyzed the infographic.
2. Pass out copies of the infographic to students.
3. Instruct students to work individually to analyze the infographic and ask them to:
- Write down two statements based on the information in the infographic.
- Write one question they have about the information presented.
4. When you notice that most students are finishing up, instruct students to pair and share their statements/questions. During their discussions you should float about the room to get a sense of what students are thinking. Make a mental note of any discussions about numbers that you overhear or written math statements that students have jotted down.
5. Come back together as a group and ask for volunteers to make a statement about the infographic. The goal here is for the discussion to be student directed. Most likely, some of the statements that students make will contain numbers that can serve as a springboard to a discussion on ratios, fractions, and percentages. For example, a student may notice that one state has a lot more electors than another state. You could ask questions like:
- How does the number of electors that New York has compare to the total number of electors?
- How would that be represented as a ratio? As a fraction? As a percent?
- What is the ratio of Strong Republican states to total states?
- Can we show that same ratio using smaller numbers?
- What percent of the states are Strong Republican states? Strong Democratic states?
6. To finish up the group discussion, refer back to original list of statements that students made about the election process before they viewed the infographic. Do any of the statements need to be adjusted?
7. Finally, give students a written assignment. It could be:
- Explain what a ratio is in words and then show three examples of ratios based on the infographic.
- Summarize the main idea of the infographic. Use numbers in your description.
Alternatively, students could create their own infographic as a follow-up assignment. See Review of Infographic Tools for the Classroom and Creating Infographics as a Classroom Activity for some ideas on how to do this.
Source: S. Card, J. Mackinlay, and B. Shneiderman, Readings in Information Visualization: Using Vision to Think, 1999.
Patricia Helmuth is an Adult Numeracy Consultant and Educator, who teaches for the Adult Program and SC BOCES in New York. She also works with the Hudson Valley RAEN Regional Staff Developers Network, as a Teacher Leader-Trainer, to provide support for Adult Education Instructors in CCSS mathematics instructional strategies. She recently became Co-Editor of the Math Practitioner, a newsletter published by ANN, The Adult Numeracy Network.