We are an information saturated society.
Information, data, and facts stream through our consciousness at surprising rates. Our students have been raised on Google with its instantaneous access to information 24/7. Immediate access, however, does not mean that our students (and most adults) have the skills and habits of mind to process that information, seek patterns, make sense, identify problems, and create solutions.
At TCEA in February, I wanted to attend a session on using infographics in Social Studies, but I ran out of time (too much to see…). I’ve dabbled with creating infographics myself for the purpose of publicizing the library’s statistics and information, but I had yet to try having students create them to demonstrate learning. I was unable to attend the session, but I was able to locate some terrific sources to help me wrap my head around how students can re-mix information and data in a visual, graphic format.
Through my Google search, I found several terrific boards on Pinterest with infographics for social studies. But, with the exception of a handful of teacher blogs, I struggled to find resources for engaging my students in an inquiry process for the purpose of creating their own infographics. Luckily, I came across Kathy Schrock’s Google Site, which provides how-to videos, rubrics, examples, and websites for creating infographics. Now all I needed was a willing teacher and a batch of curious students.
Thank goodness for professional relationships. Wednesday, I blogged about one such relationship with my Math department chair. Luckily, I had a similar relationship with a US History teacher founded on trust and like-mindedness. “Marty McFly” (he chose his own pseudonym) teaches English and US History, and so he brings with him his experiences with inquiry, research, and literacy to his social studies classes. “Marty” is also passionate about engaging his students in higher-level questioning, inquiry, and thinking in regards to his curriculum. And, he’s comfortable with experimentation when the outcome is not easily known.
We began planning by identifying the content-specific objectives and learning outcomes. Students were wrapping-up their exploration of the Great Depression and New Deal and were preparing for the unit test. In addition to the time period objectives, “Marty” also wanted to address some of the process and critical thinking skills in the US History TEKS:
(A) create thematic maps, graphs, and charts representing various aspects of the United States; and
(B) pose and answer questions about geographic distributions and patterns shown on maps, graphs, charts, and available databases.
We agreed that students could demonstrate their understanding about an issue or topic relating to the unit AND satisfy these performance standards by having them work in small groups to create an infographic that seeks to answer a question.
Whenever I work with students with inquiry (which is ALWAYS), I begin by thinking about which part of the inquiry process is best to engage them in. I’ve learned that it’s not always developmentally appropriate (or timely) to begin by having them create their own researchable question each and every time. For this project, “Marty” and I decided to create the questions for students since they were driven by specific content needs and formed from the US History TEKS:
Another decision we needed to make was how much direct support to provide to the whole class. Knowing that the infographic creation website was a brand-new tool for them, I struggled between taking the time to stop and walk through the process of creating one with the entire class, or allowing them to be independent problem-solvers and learners. We opted for the latter…(more on that in a moment).
To prepare for classes, I created a Google Doc with all of the directions, links, and resources, which was shared with students through the class Edmodo wall. We began the lesson by asking the question, “How does visualizing data help us understand an issue or topic?”
Using the YouTube video, “Fast Food” from “The Infographics Show” YouTube Channel, I invited students to comment on how the video helped them to remember significant facts about the topic. We made a list of all the ways we saw the creators of the video visualize data (charts, symbols, maps, graphs, etc.)
Next, we analyzed a few different infographics as mentor texts in order to define what they were. Here are some of our favorites:
Walking Debt–inspired by Walking Dead
Once students understood what an infographic was and its basic elements, I began to walk them through their research process beginning with the list of 10 researchable questions. Demonstrating the use of three of our online resources, Student Resources in Context, Gale Virtual Reference Library, and Sharpe Online Reference, I reviewed how to cite sources and take notes electronically in a Google Doc, which they could share with their group members through Drive.
Students spent the next full class period searching for sources with data and information that would help them respond to their researchable questions.
On the third day, students met in their groups to share and compare information, determine which pieces of information they would use and how they would visually represent it, and create a hand-drawn, rough draft of their infographic. (I learned the importance of a rough draft for any digital project from my early days with Digital Storytelling).
Our plan to allow students to be independent learners of the infographic creator sites backfired, when the tutorial videos posted on sites such as Visua.ly and Piktochart were blocked by our school filter (…..yep, I should know better by now…). So, we ended up spending about 10 minutes on the final day walking them through the process of creating an infographic in Piktochart.
List of Infographic creation websites:
We discovered that students needed more time to synthesize the information and create the infographic than originally planned, which ties back to our original reflection on teens as information consumers that they are so used to consuming information rather than using it to form new interpretations and solutions.
“Marty” had some interesting thoughts relating to the gap between students who successfully completed the assignment and those who really struggled,
I think this demonstrates Piaget’s theory that not all people reach the formal operational stage. Those that I knew would understand did, and those I knew who wouldn’t understand didn’t. Those that didn’t I think would need someone to walk them through step-by-step in order for them to create something we would say was a good product.
That “Marty McFly” is one smart guy…
Overall, “Marty” felt that the project, “gave [students] a better look at numbers (people affected, money lost, money needed to formulate programs, etc.) so it helped them understand the enormity of the situation…it helped them learn the different New Deal programs better. It also helped them see the parallels of the recent recession.”
We both agree that had we chosen one website like Piktochart, demonstrated for all students the basic features they need to create the infographic, and provided more support and modeling of the keyword searches for various questions, then we would have seen greater completion and better products.
Looking at the final infographics, I have to say that I am impressed with most groups’ ability to synthesize that amount of information, identify a clear message for their graphic, and use visuals to convey that message. I do still see many who relied heavily upon text rather than images, which I find curious. Perhaps that can be addressed in the planning phase next time. I’d also like to include a mini-lesson on utilizing the images and primary documents available in our electronic collection and Creative Commons images to add another layer of content to the infographics.
My greatest take-away from this experience is that we need to have students locating and re-mixing information in various formats for the purpose of creating new solutions and messages. By learning to manipulate and represent information for a given audience, they will learn to be more discerning of the information that courses through their daily lives rather than being mass consumers.