Infographics in the world history classroom

Posted on 02.02.2013

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I am so proud to be in the same classroom with the students I work with.  We all took a risk  and did a project that none of us were familiar with.  We created infographics about Economic Systems in World History.

At the beginning of the unit we talked about how it would work: We’d research examples of economic systems and then use our information to create infographics. Students would create these infographics to educate the public on which economic system is best and how economics affect nations.  I wanted to make this infographic public – and we did! You can check out their work here by going to http://economic-infographics.posterous.com/. (we would all love feedback and reflective questions on the work and process)

Group working on their Economic Infographic

Group working on their Economic Infographic

In class, we shared how hard this would be and about how we are all a bit uncomfortable with this assignment.  I shared my inexperience with the project and some of the challenges we’d face. They shared how it seemed really confusing and a lot of work.  They were very wary but also were excited about the potential of the end product.

I’ve worked with the unit’s content and examples before; but never have I encouraged students to create infographics at the end.  It’s a crazy task: educate the public about economic systems in persuasive, visually stunning and informative way.

At the end of the day, it was hard.  Physically and mentally.

Our school has laptop carts – which I can’t use because I float to 4 different classrooms.  So I carried 10 Chromebooks with me all day; plus my own supplies, plus student work. It was so physically taxing.  The Chromebooks are so sweet – I’d love to have access to them on a daily basis if it was logistically possible.

There are 2 very different student populations that did this project.  It’s hard to attend to the needs of each class.  They go at difference paces but I had to keep them on a similar schedule for my own sanity.  It wasn’t fair to them.  I get confused and overwhelmed sometimes.

Ultimately though, this was an amazing project and it was a ton of fun!  Below are my notes about some of the details.

This project could not have been possible without the generous donation of chrome books we used and my PLN those twitter folks who participate in the #sschat and to Mr. De Tillo (@VinceDT).  A lot of my success comes from their success and feedback. 

PBL Considerations:

  • Introduce the idea of the project at the beginning and stay focused on the process of creating the infographic.  The infographic project actually starts on the first day of the unit.  It’s about the process for the end result which is to explore information that we could use to educate the public. As a class, we would do project check ins and look at the project timeline. (dates for when certain steps should be completed)
  • Students created participation sheets.(example at bottom of page)  This helped many students stay focused and allowed me to give them immediate feedback and track their individual progress in their groups.  If a student was particularly focused or lack it I would come over and update their sheet in the appropriate row for the day.
  • Allow for reflection. This is a hard project and an effective learner should develop an honest dialog about that.  A classroom should be a supportive, thoughtful place and reflection helps with this.  Reflection can come in many forms:
    • “Is this what I wanted to create?” – focus on the product
    • “What purpose is my behavior or actions serving” – focus on process
    • “How do I feel about this.” – focus on resiliency and coping strategies.
  • Let your students tell you what comes next. Some steps took longer or should have taken less time because of where the students were at.  BUT it was successful because of the student feedback along the way.  There was more buy-in because I let the students be authentic directors of how the project would be completed.

The content:

In this unit, students explored examples of 3 main economic systems: Bartering, Socialism and Capitalism.  In class, we explored the economic systems of the Ottoman Empire, Jomon civilization, Sweden, ancient and modern China, the silk road, Afghanistan, Venezuela and Japan by playing games, doing at home research, having discussions, conducting active reading and doing reflective writing.  The goal was to develop an archive of sources and information that could be used to create infographics.

While we explored these examples I would constantly try and remind students about our end goal – that our discussions are worth remembering and writing down because it might be useful later.  Some heeded this advice better than others.

Steps to the project: 

I introduced the project right before the craziness of state testing.  At our school, we spend 2 weeks with a very chaotic and disrupted schedule.  So, it was nice to have the flexibility these two weeks to focus on a project.

Step 1: Understand the project – We went over the Economic Infographic Project Description and talked about the challenges and reflected on our fears.

Step 2: Review the unit and connect content to project – I created a review sheet and we connect the content to answering the EQ for the project and brainstorming ways we could visually show the information.

Step 3: Understand what an infographic is – Much of the student confusion came from simply not knowing what they would do on the project.  They were incredibly patient with me during step 1 and 2.  Here, I had them fill out the first part of the Infographic Handout.  I got 1 laptop for each learning group (I have them in groups of 4) and they reflected on the “do’s and don’ts” of what makes a good infographic.  This is when students really got into the project and I could really sense an excitement.  Especially when I showed them @VinceDT’s student infographics.

Students figuring out the "do's" and "don'ts" of infographics

Students figuring out the “do’s” and “don’ts” of infographics

Step 4: Outline infographic – Students did a free write answering the EQ; developed a thesis statement and then decided on which sources of info they would use as examples for their thesis on the infographic. I gave each of them a packet to help them with this (infographic handout part 2)

Step 5: Create a bibliography – I’m embarrased to say I’ve taught for 4 years and this is the first time I took this seriously.  I thought it would take a class period to go over this.  NOPE! took 3 days, and I could have spent more time and done more activities!  Vocab that was confusing for students: bibliography, reference, citation (citing), source and MLA/APA format.  Once we had that straight, we had to overcome their ‘fear’ of finding the information needed for the citation.  We did a scavenger hunt of a source for the right information and then cited their sources.  For HW they had to make a bibliography of the sources they wanted to use for the infographic.  Half of the students didn’t do it or did it wrong, so the next day we went over it again.

Step 6: Making the infographic – I gave each group a laptop and they had 3 class days to work on it.  Many didn’t realize until the last minute (surprise) that they would have to work outside of class.

Step 7: Turning it in – I used posterous.com.  I showed students how to email the project in and I think it went fine.  The day after, we looked over the site together and I gave them 24 hours to notify me if their post needed changes and I would make the changes with them.

What I learned:

Students struggled with connecting the information in class to the thesis – I wasn’t surprised.  Many of my students haven’t done this sort of work before and many of them only wanted to use very broad examples.  I really had to stay on top of their work and push them to ‘say more’ or ‘be more specific’. Bottom line: students didn’t use enough sources/examples.  I have to do a better job next time connecting them back to class content, not just big ideas.

The content didn’t perfectly mirror what goes into an infographic.  Students had many examples of economic systems but these examples do not necessarily translate well to infographics because it’s not based on statistics and data.  Infographics are usually numbers and graph oriented.  This information was more about big ideas and specific examples.  I think students struggled with how to express these things.  Bottom line: I’m not sure if this project perfectly fit with the content of the unit.

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