In a grade 12 DP history class, a student might see the following images and have to answer the question: “Using the sources and your own knowledge, explain the role of Chinese youth in the time period between 1954-1975.”
In a grade 10 MYP Geography class students might see the following image and answer the question: ” Apply the concept of population pyramids and explain what each one tells you about the development level of the country it represents. Use labelled diagrams and appropriate vocabulary where necessary to support your explanation.”
Historical documents and demographic statistics are the bread and butter of a humanities teacher. Long before I heard of things like digital literacy or infographics, my subject areas demanded that my students interpret, understand, analyze and manipulate evidence in the ways a geographer or a historian would. Moreover, I require my students to think about the reliability and validity of data as historians and geographers. I believe, long after the IB exam, the skills of analyzing a political cartoon or interpreting a graph of economic indicators will be ones that they take forward into the “real-world”.
Middle School is a place where we should be stressing the skills of reading visual data. I am not only teaching using visuals for my visual learners, but also because they need the skills associated with visual literacy.
My 7th graders really loved this short visual summary of the decline of empires. It sounded like a soccer game was going on as we watched it. One of the questions asked was: “What trends do you notice about the rise and fall of empires?”
We watched it three times in class thinking about what was happening to the empires and how the creator chose to present their information. Not only is it more interesting that reading a book, but it has them thinking about how information can be shared in a multitude of ways, beyond just a timeline.
In 8th grade, when the world population hit 7 Billion, the variety of infographics was amazing And when we looked at the following infographic they were asked: What is the message of this infographic? What is fact and what is opinion in this infographic? Can we trust the information? What questions do you still have after looking at this?”
As a group we interpreted the data, compared our own understanding with the information being presented and questioned where the information was coming from. Infographics can be great, but it’s important to teach students how to look at all the pretty graphs and charts and images and have them synthesize the information. And not all infographics are good and we need to teach that too. This is not dumbing down information, but in fact encourages some high-level thinking.
If students learn how to read, interpret, and create their own visual understanding of the world, they are preparing for the world that is inundated with graphs and charts and images. It’s important when planning vertically to teach the skills that will prepare our students for exams and tests. However it is more important to prepare them for whatever-will-replace-newspapers or the iPad app that will be just be a part of their daily lives.Sources: “The happy life Chairman Mao gave us, 1954 [Poster],” in Children and Youth in History, Item #270, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/primary-sources/270 (accessed March 13, 2012). “Protect the great results of the Cultural Revolution, 1974” [Poster],” in Children and Youth in History, Item #271, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/primary-sources/271 (accessed March 13, 2012).