Guest post from Matthew Bebbington @Bebbmeister: The power of data pictures

Hans Rosling’s belief is that ‘making information more accessible has the potential to change the quality of the information itself.”  I believe he is right. Rosling’s work provides a unique slant on how to present data in an exciting way that could purposefully enrich the way in which the 21st Century learner and teacher examines and display data.  One question you should ask yourself, as an educator, should be ‘ how can I use Rosling’s work to stimulate learning in the classroom?’

I could (hopelessly) try and describe his work but I think his TED biography summarises it brilliantly:

“Even the most worldly and well-travelled among us will have their perspectives shifted by Hans Rosling. A professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, his current work focuses on dispelling common myths about the so-called developing world, which (he points out) is no longer worlds away from the West. In fact, most of the Third World is on the same trajectory toward health and prosperity, and many countries are moving twice as fast as the West did.”

What sets Rosling apart isn’t just his apt observations of broad social and economic trends, but the stunning way he presents them. Guaranteed: You’ve never seen data presented like this. By any logic, a presentation that tracks global health and poverty trends should be, in a word: boring. But in Rosling’s hands, data sings. Trends come to life. And the big picture — usually hazy at best — snaps into sharp focus. 

Rosling’s presentations are grounded in solid statistics (often drawn from United Nations data), illustrated by the visualization software he developed. The animations transform development statistics into moving bubbles and flowing curves that make global trends clear, intuitive and even playful. During his legendary presentations, Rosling takes this one step farther, narrating the animations with a sportscaster’s flair. Rosling developed the breakthrough software behind his visualizations through his nonprofit Gapminder, founded with his son and daughter-in-law. The free software — which can be loaded with any data — was purchased by Google in March 2007. (Rosling met the Google founders at TED.)

As if all this weren’t enough, the irrepressible Rosling is also an accomplished sword-swallower — a skill he demonstrated at TED2007.

So please, watch, learn and be amazed! – download graphs to your desktop for free & use offline also.  There are also examples of gapminder being utilised by educators on the ‘For Teachers’ tab & a 2 minute video tutorial displaying the various uses of the interactive graphs.


Creative thinking: Reflecting to bring words and pictures together (pt1)

Here is Gregg Fraley @greggfraley speaking at TEDx hosted by NASA.  Whilst I listened, I doodled…only to find that one of his key recommendations was to purchase and use a notebook to capture random thoughts and ideas as we go through the day. How good did THAT make me feel?!

The time when I am able to work from home is precious. It gives me the opportunity to immerse myself in readings, resources and videos that push my thinking forward. It turns out that what I’m able to do during this time is develop my creative behaviours. It makes me consider the age-old tension that we all face between achieving curriculum coverage and offering opportunities for deep thinking.

Trying to design opportunities for learners to respond personally to the issues and concepts they encounter is, without doubt, one of the toughest challenges when it comes to carving up a fifty minute block of time into meaningful learning ‘chunks’.  Perhaps one answer is the development of doodle-techniques, just as I have tried here whilst listening to the talk. We know that the majority of information we encounter is channelled through our visual receptors, so having a focus on making connections between the visual and cognitive parts of our brains is something that deserves more time?

Watch and enjoy…my sketches are below (ordinarily, I wouldn’t have included them, as I don’t feel that they are ‘good enough’. If you wacth the TEDx Talk, however, you’ll see that I have had the courage to remove the “YARDSTICK OF COMPARISON”. I found that they are perfectly valid forms of my self expression – thanks, Gregg!).

N.B. The original TEDx Talk post was originally posted on my main blog site





Serious Play: Freeing up thinking

Tim Brown gives some great insight here into practical creativity in his work place at IDEO. I’ve used many of the activities he showcases here with teachers and students. The 30 Circles activity is a particular favourite of mine. It’s a divergent thinking activity which forces you to generate as many ideas as possible within a given time limit, whilst switching off your integral quality-sensor. So often, we become inhibited by our own preconceived ideas about what is ‘good’. For many, this quality-sensor mechanism is one of the biggest hurdles for us to really tap into our creativity.

I used the activity with a group of teachers recently and they ‘wasted’ 27 seconds of the allotted minute before they made any mark on their paper at all. They spent this time looking nervously around the room at their peers, checking to see if they were ‘right’ in what they thought they had to do. Even though there was no right or wrong. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no judgement here from me on this as all it did was remind me of how great fear of getting things wrong can be when it comes to thinking.

I’ve included the template I use for the 30 circles activity. The only thing you need to remember when using this is:

(1) Be clear that any approach is the ‘right’ approach
(2) Restrict the the time to one minute
(3) Invest in feedback: How did it FEEL to think like that? How confident were you in completing the activity? What were your concerns? In what ways did you feel pressure (from others/ yourself/ me…?)
(4) How could you adapt this and make it a subject/topic specific activity to free up thinking and establish a ‘safe-to-try’ culture of learning?

Questioning: What makes a problem worth solving?

Here’s Dan Meyer talking about the way in which we can really involve learners in their maths. I see absolutely no reason not to apply the same principles in all areas of the curriculum. Broken down, Meyer advocates an approach that might look a little bit like this:

So..ask the shortest question you can so that the sub-questions are drawn out by the learners in their discussions. Then let the students build the problem.

DRAW ON PRIOR LEARNING: What do we already know that will help us with this problem?

DIVERGENT THINKING & IDEAS GENERATION: What don’t we know that we need to know?

CONVERGENT THINKING & PRIORITISATION: From all the information we have, what do is going to really help us in solving the problem?

IDENTIFICATION: What IS the problem we need to solve?

Oh, and then get them to do it. Which they will be eager to because it’s now THEIR problem to solve.