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.