Data sets and spreadsheets offer a wealth of information for students and teachers. But, unless you're a true numbers geek, pondering data in its raw form is most often a bewildering prospect.
Infographics, data presented in graphic visual form, make this information easier to consume. Crafting their own infographics--even in less elaborate forms than you see in GOOD magazine--can help students work with and learn from existing data sets or ones they've created themselves.
You don't have to be a spreadsheet wizard to effectively display data using the following free tools.
Cool spreadsheet application Boogie Fusion Tables (tables.googlelabs.com) makes it easy to create visualizations of data sets. At its most basic level, the application can be used to graphically represent existing data sets with one click. Delving deeper, Fusion Tables can be used to compare your own data sets and create visualizations of those comparisons, from tables and maps to charts and graphs.
Google's Public Data Explorer (www. google.com/publicdata/home) is similar to Fusion Tables, but restricted to use of publicly available data sets and those written in the Data Set Publishing Language (code. google.com/apis/publicdata), developed by Google. These include 80 data sets from entities such as the World Bank, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. With Public Data Explorer, users can take numbers and quickly generate visual representations, as well as graphic comparisons. Each visualization you create has a unique URL, which you can direct people to; you can also embed your visualization in a blog or website.
Many Eyes (http://bit.ly/jcbyNx) is a free Web tool developed by IBM. Many Eyes provides tools for creating a wide variety of data visualizations using your information or data sets hosted by IBM. If you're not interested in creating your own but just want to explore visualizations made by others, you can do that here, too. In addition to common formats such as line graphs, bar graphs, maps, and word clouds, Many Eyes lets you make block histograms, bubble charts, and phrase nets, among other unusual elements.
Target Map (www.targetmap.com) is a service that allows anyone to create mapped displays of data sets. Import your own information, use data found online or from other Target Map users, and map it in relation to a country, region, or the world. You can customize the display, making borders appear faint or bold or alter the look of data points. Target Map is free to use if you agree to publish your maps to the public gallery. If you want to keep your maps private, you can do so for $195 per year. The first time you complete a project in the application, your map is reviewed for quality before being added to the public gallery.
While not specifically designed for creating infographics, Zoom.it (zoom.it) is a handy tool for displaying large graphics online, resulting in a display that allows you to zoom in, zoom out, and scroll around a large image. To use Zoom.it, your image needs to be hosted online somewhere (Flickr and Picasa work fine). To create your zoomable file, simply copy the URL of your hosted image and paste it into Zoom. it. Want to share your image? Give people the direct link to it or embed the image into your blog or website.
Richard Byrne (richardbyrne@freetech 4teachers.corn), a high school social studies teacher, writes the award-winning blog Free Technology for Teachers (www.freetech 4teachers.corn).