Teaching Visually: Propaganda, Population Pyramids, and Infographics

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.”

Country A

Country B

Historical documents and demographic statistics are the bread and butter of a humanities teacher.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.

“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).

About Rebekah Madrid

MYP Humanities Instructor. International School Teacher in Japan. Google Certified Teacher. Apple Distinguished Educator. National Board Certified Teacher. Traveler & TV Watcher. This is where I write my thoughts about all of the above.
This entry was posted in COETAIL @YIS, IBO-MYP-DP, MYP Humanities, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Teaching Visually: Propaganda, Population Pyramids, and Infographics

  1. Garry Leroy Baker says:

    What I like most about infographics is that the good ones tell us show us what we could not identify before. You have found some great examples. Its clear that the British Empire was beginning to break up by 1924. Is this software available so that student could design their own additions, like adding new empires that arose during the time period presented?

    I appreciated your point about planning and teaching this material and the skills vertically. How do you coordinate, or scaffold, skill across grade levels in your department and school? What new skills are required that perhaps were not included when teaching the reading of charts and grafts ten years ago?

    • I think we’re not quite there yet, but soon we are going to have to teach interactive infographics and visuals. Right now photos, graphs, charts are pretty static. That is going to be changing very, very quickly. We will have to teach kids about how to interact with these visuals in a way I can’t fully imagine yet.

      As for scaffolding, I think that it really helped that I have taught all levels (MYP year 1-5 and DP). I have a clear sense of where we need to be. But my department has also sat down and thought about what skills and content we need to teach across levels. We are very aware of vertical planning and that is pretty great.

  2. Sean says:

    Nice piece. I agree with your points about the quality of these graphics being judged on their effectiveness as there are good and bad ones out there and teaching the skills necessary in the real world to interpret them and sort factual representation from opinion dissemination as factual representation.

    I particularly liked this: “…my subject areas demanded that my students interpret, understand, analyze and manipulate evidence in the ways a geographer or a historian…”

    Thanks also for the links in your post. Some helpful stuff there that added value to this for me.

  3. Love these points:

    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.

    With so much information available, we can’t always be exploring text, the ability to design and create visuals which present data in a way which demonstrates deep understanding will continue to be more and more critical.

  4. This is very interesting. Your posts on MYP Humanities is motivating me to look for a school that offers it here in the Philippine. I’ve had experience working in the PYP but when I moved to middle years (which uses the IGCSE) the inquiry tick just couldn’t leave me and I remember using the same resources when I was teaching my students development. Great job I hope to exchange thoughts with you some more.

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