Data Visualization, Part 4: Classroom Logistics

Incorporating data visualization in my own classroom management has been a fun experiment. Seating charts can be super efficient when using colored dots to show where students sit.

Computer Lab Seating Chart

Classroom Seating Chart


Efficient Feedback

Feedback for students can be quickly and efficiently transmitted through shapes and colors. This slide was part of my lesson today, to demonstrate which of 24 groups had met minimum standards on three different assignments. Showing the slide took a few seconds, but transmitted 72 data points, and allowed every group to compare their progress with that of others.

Data Visualization, Part 3: Food Diary Project

Students at my school have summer assignments. This year the science assignment required them to keep track of everything they ate and drank for 3 days. They brought the data to my class the first week of school, and I challenged them to think of questions they could answer by looking at the data, then illustrating the answer with a drawing. I showed them postcards from Dear Data about the number of doors the authors had walked through in a week, or the number of animals they had encountered in their daily lives; I provided them with a link to all the postcards in the series to browse at their leisure. They brainstormed questions they may want to answer, and received their assignment.

I had help designing the assignment. The Biology teacher, Si Ying Li, and I collaborated on the types of questions that may lend themselves to this project, and set parameters on logistics (it must be hand drawn, on a white piece of cardstock we would supply, folded in half, with the key on one side of the fold and the image on the other half.) Because Si Ying and I had already created a first draft of our assignment when I met with Emily Royall for the first time, I let her read it and she had some suggestions as well.

by K.J. Allen

Two days after I explained the project, but two days before it was due, I set aside ten minutes in my class for students to sketch out their initial ideas and get feedback from several other students at their table. I took this class time because I realize from prior experience that open-ended projects can be difficult for students to start, unless they have brainstormed a few ideas first. Fortunately, one student had done hers early, and it was a good example, so I shared it with every class. K.J. represented her food diary with sea stars:  each star is a day, and each arm of the sea star is a meal. The length of the sea star indicates the amount of calories consumed, and symbols represent utensils used, eating partners, time of day, and location. She did a good job of decorating her ideas thematically.

The Food Diary Data Visualizations turned out great! I was very impressed with what the students produced. We took some of their projects to a group of fellow teachers (our CFG–Critical Friends Group), who gave us feedback about how to improve the project in the future; the biggest takeaway was that we should limit the data to about 3-4 topics to minimize confusion. One thing I noticed was how a few students didn’t understand that data needed to be aggregated in some way:  they drew a symbol for every food item, instead of allowing a symbol to stand for information that would answer a question. Most of the students did a good job, but some products were particularly compelling. In the examples below, the reader can focus on one object and consult the key to reveal multiple variables about the food consumption habits of the students during the three days they kept a food diary. To better view each of the examples, double-click.

Data Visualization, Part 2: Connecting with a Local Expert

While reading a local newspaper during the summer, I noticed one of their authors, Emily Royall, had the title Data Director in her byline. Intrigued, I reached out via email and we later met for coffee. My initial idea was that perhaps she could supply us with data and my students could visualize it in some way that could be useful to her for an article. We came up with better ideas.

During our face-to-face meeting, Emily became enthusiastic about my students, and agreed to come be a guest speaker.  We scheduled her visit for the day after I gave the required district lesson about digital citizenship; topically, this worked perfectly. As a data expert, Emily had lots of advice for my students regarding online privacy.  One of their favorite moments was checking their Instagram categories to see how the app had categorized them as potential targets for advertisements.

Emily is the CEO of her own company that uses design and data to highlight inequities in society. As an artist, she had a project that could use our help. She was staging an exhibit at a local art gallery. Emily had downloaded her Facebook data file and printed out the comments she had posted, which required 700 pages. She planned to fold each page into the type of fortune tellers students make in middle school. We helped. At the end of the day, we had a tall stack of folded papers.  On October 5, a local gallery hosted the opening of her exhibit, and students were able to go see their work on display.

Forming this partnership with Emily Royall allowed my students and I to dive deeper into the ways physical objects can represent data, as well as to understand how our actions online create data.

Data Visualization, Part 1: Getting Acquainted

What is data visualization? It can be as simple as a pie chart, or as complex as a professional infographic.  This year my professional goal is to incorporate more data visualization into my Digital Media class.


Why this goal, and why now? This summer I took my grandchildren to the library several times a week. On one of those visits, the six-year-old pulled an interesting book off the shelf. The title was Dear Data, and I was intrigued by the concept. Two graphic designer friends, one in London and another in New York, measured some aspect of their lives and illustrated it (by hand) on a simple postcard which they mailed to the friend. They measured how often they heard or said “thank you,” how many doors they walked through, and how many animals they encountered. The extraordinary results can be seen at their website.

As a Digital Media teacher, presenting information through visualization is a big part of my curriculum. Whether students are creating videos, constructing infographics, designing bumper stickers, or writing a blog post, the way they choose to express themselves will involve much more than words on a page (or a screen). Visuals matter. I decided to increase methods of data visualization in my class this year, and add types of visualizations they could do without the aid of technology.

Research & First Steps

I started by researching the authors of Dear Data. Giorgia Lupi has done a TED Talk, and her Instagram is full of ideas. I reached out to Giorgia via Twitter, and she responded encouragingly. I adapted one of her ideas, data wallpaper, for an activity our students completed at Freshman Orientation:  each student colored a symbol with their answers to simple, non-invasive get-to-know-you questions. The symbols were put together to create a poster that now hangs in the hallway outside our computer lab. By looking at the poster, students can see that they are not alone in their answers, and feel more like they belong.

Data Selfie Badges

Giorgia Lupi’s ideas of data selfies and data badges inspired another project. To introduce graphic design, I use Google Drawings with my students. After a day or two of practice, I gave them a quick 5-minute task to create their own data selfie following simple instructions using a Google Drawings template. Here are the results from one class.

8th period

The students turned their creations into me via Google Classroom, so I opened the assignment files automatically created for me on my Google Drive and downloaded all the images. Then I printed them all, 4 to a page; I learned through trial and error to uncheck the “fit to page” box so my images would print actual size, since I had designed the template to be certain dimensions. The size of the template matched the button maker template I planned to use. The teachers on my team helped me cut out each design and make it into a button using the button maker at our district’s resource center.

We asked students to wear their badges to our field trip last week. Since many students have not yet met each other, wearing the badges allowed them to learn one another’s names as well as several simple facts. For example, the badge at the top arrow describe someone who likes cats, is a night owl, is extroverted, and “sees the glass half full.” The arrow at the bottom is someone who likes dogs, is a morning person, identifies as introverted, and sees the glass half empty.

Getting Acquainted with Data Visualization

These two projects helped build community for my students during the first few weeks of high school. Building community is the most important thing for the beginning of a school year, but especially so for a magnet high school like mine that draws students from over 40 different middle schools. Utilizing graphic design for meaningful purposes means I can meet my curricular objectives while also fostering crucial social and emotional learning.