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Sensei, graphu? Graphu?

by Zwackus Fri Jul 11th, 2008 at 03:21:30 AM EST

I have recently switched jobs, and am now a real and proper teacher at a combined middle/high school in a dumpy city on the outskirts of Tokyo.  Follow me below the fold for an amusing tale of teaching, English, woe, and a subject near and dear to the hearts of ET readers everywhere . . . graphs!

Evidence graphs are not boring - Promoted by Migeru


I teach at a "International School."  Not one of the real International Schools, set up for the children of foreigners and ex-pats living in Japan for a few years, but an "International School" for Japanese students who want to learn English in an immersive environment.  Some of the students went to English-focused elementary schools, and are good.  Some of them are returnees who have lived abroad and have excellent English skills.  Others are neither, and (when starting the program, at least) speak next to no English at all.

Fortunately, the language of instruction is English!

At my new school, I teach four classes, including a section of World History and a section of Social Studies.  The Social Studies course is for middle-school first year students, who are about 12 years old now, and will likely turn 13 sometime during the course of the year.

In that class, I have 10 students.  One lived in Canada for much of her youth, and is very good.  Two are exceptionally hard workers with reasonable English listening and reading skills.  Two went to an elementary school with a strong English program, and know a few hundred words and some basic grammar.  Five are completely clueless.

So, how to teach social studies in English to students who can neither read or speak English?  Maps and Graphs.

They can't read English, but numbers and pictures are universal.  I can hang a few English words around these, and call it a day.

Much to my surprise, the students LOVE making graphs!
For a while, at the beginning of every class, one or two students would ask me, in a pleading voice, "Sensei, graphu? Graphu?" Or, "Teacher, are we going to be making graphs today?"

I give them a table of numbers, be it climate statistics, crime rates, or fish catches, and they'll happily work away at a graph.  I still have to remind them to properly label their graphs and whatnot, but they're actually pretty good.  They've figured out a variety of different presentation types on their own.  All I explicitly taught them was the bar graph and the line graph, but playing around with those two basic forms the students have come up with all kinds of different, and generally valid, ways of displaying data sets.  I've even had them combine data using averages, and graph differences over time.

However, I'm having a few problems, which I hope the ET community might be able to help me with.

First of all, aside from a few courses in Psych statistics, I've never studied much about making or using graphs effectively.  I know some of the basics, but until a few months ago had NEVER thought of how to teach graph reading or drawing.  I do worry that I'm inadvertently teaching them some bad habits or inappropriate forms.

Second, I often fail miserably to find useful and interesting data for the students to graph, and when I do it's often spread over several pages on different websites, which I then have to laboriously compile for myself in Excel.

What I really want are big compilations of boring tables, tables which, presented properly, can provide hours of educational fun for my students.  I hope.

Content-wise, this year I'm covering North and South America, both physical and human geography.  I've done a lot of stuff with climate zones so far, and the students sort of understand that concept, a little.  But I'd love some data on wildlife populations (at the state or national level, for general species categories - focusing on one particular subspecies of fish is just not appropriate at this level), climate and weather, economic data on production and consumption of obvious things that the students can easily understand, ethnic composition, etc.

Also, if anyone knows where I could find estimated historical population series going back to first contact, and covering Native American populations, that would be great.  I'm trying to do a bit of Native American work as well.

I have vague ideas about the econ and pop data, but haven't really worked too much on that aspect because we've not gotten to that segment yet - we're still doing the physical geography of North America.

Any help would be appreciated.  Thanks!

Display:
I vote Sensei, graphu? should join the corpus of ET Internet Traditions as a consecrated expression.

Particularly to be addressed to Dear Leader.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jun 21st, 2008 at 01:55:04 AM EST
I might be totally off here but I believe we could call Jerome Graphu No Sensei.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 21st, 2008 at 08:07:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sounds right. But let us beware:

Sensei - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sometimes enthusiastic supporters and admirers use it fawningly, as when addressing or talking about charismatic business, political, and spiritual leaders. Japanese speakers are particularly sensitive to this usage when it concerns members of an in-group who spontaneously associate or identify sensei with a particular person--many if not most Japanese speakers readily see this usage as indicative of adherents speaking of a charismatic spiritual or cult leader. When talking about such situations, Japanese speakers will sometimes use the term sarcastically to ridicule overblown adulation, and the Japanese media frequently invoke it to highlight the megalomania of those who allow themselves to be addressed in this manner. In speech, a sarcastic sensei is intoned for emphasis, whereas in print it is rendered in katakana, akin to scare quotes or italics in English.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jun 21st, 2008 at 09:35:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sounds about right. When you say Dear Leader you don't mean he's the next Mao, do you?

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 21st, 2008 at 09:48:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe this is useful: oecd - statistic portal and the cia world factbook, but I am sure Migeru will have better sources for you. :-)

That's and interesting challenge you got there, with your students. Must be often fun and frustrating at the same time.

by Fran (fran at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 21st, 2008 at 01:56:04 AM EST
From the CIA world fact book you want the Rank Order Pages which are
resorted lists of data from selected Factbook data fields. Rank Order pages are generally given in descending order -highest to lowest - such as Population and Area. The two exceptions are Unemployment Rate and Inflation Rate, which are in ascending - lowest to highest - order. Rank Order pages are available for the following 49 fields in six of the nine Factbook categories.
Wikipedia and NationMaster have lots of tables. The problem with WIkipedia's tables is that they are HTML and contain lots of extraneous stuff which makes copying and pasting them into Excel or a text file a real pain. Nationmaster is a good place to look for CIA World Fact Book fields which are not in the "Rank order pages".

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 21st, 2008 at 07:24:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem with Wikipedia's tables is that they are HTML and contain lots of extraneous stuff which makes copying and pasting them into Excel or a text file a real pain

Not sure if I've actually tried it at Wikipedia, but I've had very good luck in general extracting table info from web pages using the TableTools extension in Firefox.

Now where are we going and what's with the handbasket?

by budr on Fri Jul 11th, 2008 at 07:14:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But Excel can load html pages, and once they are loaded, then saved as Excel files, its reasonably easy to clear out all the extraneous stuff.

So "save page" (or whatever your browser calls it) rather than copy and paste, and load it with Excel.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jul 14th, 2008 at 01:10:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
US government agencies:
You can probably find some cool data here.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 21st, 2008 at 11:21:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for writing the diary!  I'm not sure I can help with some of the stats you are asking for but Eurostat contains many data tables on a wide range of topics.  I've used stats on equality, demographics, gender pay gaps but also obesity and physical activity levels.

I also guess that you may be able to get hold of a GCSE or A level type textbook online that will cover stats and graph presentation and enable you to be confident you aren't teaching the wrong things!

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sat Jun 21st, 2008 at 03:48:34 AM EST
Much to my surprise, the students LOVE making graphs!

I think it is mostly a reflection on the sad state of our culture than we expect people to find visual displays of information boring. Don't we have sayings like "it jumps off the page" or (in Spanish) "it comes in through your eyes" (entra por los ojos)?

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 21st, 2008 at 06:40:48 AM EST
The Momcat and I were talking about something like this yesterday.  She has the book The Alphabet versus the Goddess: The Conflict between Word and Image by Leonard Shlain.  It has been on my To Read list like forever, but from our conversations and other sources, I understand that Schlain makes the case that the advent of the printing press and wide-spread literacy altered the wiring of our brains in profound and fundamental ways, from primarily visual and symbolic modes of comprehension and communication to more verbal and, for lack of a better word, logical modes.  Perhaps, just perhaps, the rise of the Enlightenment, science, industrialization all follow as direct or indirect results of that change.

Lately I've begun to see and hear expressions of concern that the Web is somehow dumbing us down, turning us into semi-illiterates, easily seduced by flashy graphics and catchy sound-bites.  I wonder if instead the Web, which is after all primarily a graphical more than verbal medium, is facilitating another brain rewiring, from verbal/logical back to visual/symbolic.  And I wonder if that's necessarily a bad thing.  Perhaps there is a place for both, and finding a proper balance would help us get past some of the dead ends we seem to have wandered into as a species and as a civilization.

Now where are we going and what's with the handbasket?

by budr on Fri Jul 11th, 2008 at 07:38:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One might also counter that the dumbing-down, visual-cues, no-text, illogical medium par excellence (or whatever one wishes to call such a thing) is the TV.

Further, such screaming about the internets being used to YouTube snazzy videos and loaded up with flash would belie the fact that the 'net is fundamentally a written medium - all the animation jazz is very visibly and usually very crudely attached after the fact (and usually in such a fashion as to eat my CPU-time... grumble, grumble...).

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Jul 12th, 2008 at 12:57:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
First of all, aside from a few courses in Psych statistics, I've never studied much about making or using graphs effectively.  I know some of the basics, but until a few months ago had NEVER thought of how to teach graph reading or drawing.  I do worry that I'm inadvertently teaching them some bad habits or inappropriate forms.

For good habits or appropriate form you can do worse than to read Edward Tufte's books.

The fact is that until relatively recently (1970's) graph-based exploratory data analysis hadn't been really a part of statistics, and I don't think even today academic statisticians or statistics books really give it the prominence it deserves. So really I cannot recommend sources for how to learn or teach graphing.

Another book you might want to look at is How to lie with statistics which is an entertaining little booklet from the 1950's which illustrates a lot of the pitfalls to be avoided when making graphs.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 21st, 2008 at 07:20:15 AM EST
Also see the series here by JakeS

Do you know any good, usable programs for making graphs? I find excel to be rather limited in its aesthetics.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Jun 21st, 2008 at 07:38:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hmm, I would use R. Maybe I should write a series of tutorials - it's not as scary as it seems.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 21st, 2008 at 07:52:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... by coincidence, I was just this morning contemplating picking up R.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Jun 22nd, 2008 at 06:55:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What do you need to use R for? Maybe I can target a tutorial for your application.

I haven't tried it, but I think Jaguar (Java Gui for R) coould be a really nice environment for those less statistically inclined.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jun 22nd, 2008 at 07:19:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Non parametric statistics ... eg, clustering using minimum entropy increase on group formation.

But there's no need to tailor the tutorial to that ... a tutorial on using R to plot things of interest is fine. The main hurdles on learning a language-based approach rather than something like a spreadsheet is getting the basic Gestalt of the language and knowing how to do something from beginning to end ... once that foundation is in place, the balance can be picked up incrementally.

So something where a statistical language approach has substantial advantages ... maybe a tutorial on plotting EU-wide and Eurozone time series data based on data on individual countries.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Jun 22nd, 2008 at 09:12:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The basic gestalt of the language would be working with data.frames and getting used to functional programming and list-based data.

And, of course, exploratory data analysis using graphs.

I should be able to write a couple of diaries on that - I just hope they won't come up too arid/boring/technical.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jun 22nd, 2008 at 06:53:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Just make sure you are graphing something of interest in each tutorial, it should be all right.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Jun 22nd, 2008 at 08:17:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Reminds me that I need to do another one or two of those. I actually quite liked that project, but I guess I've been too lazy to follow it up.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Jul 11th, 2008 at 05:47:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think there are two types of graphs.. those used for mathematical analysis and those used to plot pure data.

If you take any table of numbers and you intrduce in excel or anyother tabel environment (take the data form the CIA worldbook or wiki .. but you have to make soem changes in format) ,there is for sure an option to choose the x-axis and the y-ayis.. and then plot one in frotn of the other where each data is a point.

Once you have mastered this aspect of choosing the axis and plotting discrete data, I rec you the book Migeru mentions about how to plot this data in a truthfull way.. it is a very good start.

Once you knwo how to plot discrete data properly in an axis vs axis scheme  then you can explore the help of the excel program regardign different ways of plotting the same thing.

I am afraid there is no book I know with indication about which graph-method is better depending on the type of data and future analysis you want to make... but there are a few guidlines.

If you want to plot a year after year comparison trasnforming the data point into a bar-graph is normally helpful.. drawing different years one beside the other.

If it is a set of percentages which add up to 100% a cake-plot with different portions is mormally the rule.

If your data comes from measuring the same thing over and over and over and you are interesting in the small differences you find, then the best is to plot all the point in a single column as small dots to see the cloud of points around a number...

And once you have mastered the different graphs.... then you can proceed witht he continuous, mathematical graphs.. and start an internet course on basic analysis of functions....but this will take more time...

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Sat Jun 21st, 2008 at 07:47:48 AM EST
If it is a set of percentages which add up to 100% a cake-plot with different portions is mormally the rule.
I'm afraid pie charts are deprecated:
Statisticians tend to regard pie charts as a poor method of displaying information. While pie charts are common in business and journalism, they are uncommon in scientific literature. One reason for this is that it is more difficult for comparisons to be made between the size of items in a chart when area is used instead of length. In Stevens' power law, visual area is perceived with a power of 0.7, compared to a power of 1.0 for length. This suggests that length is a better scale to use, since perceived differences would be linearly related to actual differences.

... Most subjects have difficulty ordering the slices in the pie chart by size; when the bar chart is used the comparison is much easier.

If you have numbers adding up to 100%, plot them on the same bar, one on top of the other.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 21st, 2008 at 11:14:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
J ejeje.. it is all about teaching how to read graphs in media... in physics or any other field they are never used, of course... but I understood he was talking about graphs used in media, finance and in some cases general reader science publications.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Sat Jun 21st, 2008 at 02:21:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
He's teaching young kids to make graphs - if he can vaccinate them against pie charts...

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 21st, 2008 at 02:22:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
 .. wouldn't that be nice? :)

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Sun Jun 22nd, 2008 at 07:51:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Graphs and statistical analysis are used a lot in the life sciences. One common example: experiments are run several times to confirm that the outcome is reproducible and because of experiment-to-experiment variability. The results may be summarized in a column graph, with error bars proportional to the standard deviation in the set of replicate experiments.

Having said that, incompetent usage of graphs and statistical analysis in scientific papers is one of the major complaints of journal editors.

Double check casts doubt on statistics in published papers

A study highlighting statistical gaffes in scientific literature has brought renewed calls for vigilance among mathematically challenged researchers and journal editors.Statistical tests are sometimes seen as a necessary evil by researchers, who fear their complexity but know that they are needed to test hypotheses.



You're clearly a dangerous pinko commie pragmatist.
by Vagulus on Sat Jun 21st, 2008 at 04:08:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Precisely, the exmaple you put is the example I put for graphs in broad audience scienteific journals..

but again.. it seems that the teaching goes to show them how to do the graphs trhemselves, not about how to read them...

then of course.. i would go from basic graphs to mathematical analysis (up to limits, growth, areas and so on). Probably statistical analysis with visual cues is a bit too far for them :)

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Sun Jun 22nd, 2008 at 07:54:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... in three or four words of English.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Jun 22nd, 2008 at 09:03:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
European Tribune - Sensei, graphu? Graphu?
Also, if anyone knows where I could find estimated historical population series going back to first contact, and covering Native American populations, that would be great.  I'm trying to do a bit of Native American work as well.

Livi-Bacci, A Concise History of World Population, is my standard reference book in these matters. They take their data on the historic populations of different continents from J. N. Biraben, Essai sur l'évolution du nombre des hommes, (Population 34 (1979), p.16). I doubt that is availble online, but if you an university library, a scanner and a good scanner program you might be able to turn it into something useful.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Sat Jun 21st, 2008 at 07:55:26 AM EST
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Jun 21st, 2008 at 07:58:09 PM EST
Good one, to finish a course :-)

Evidently, there are many number tables in financial pages of newspapers. They might learn more than adding numbers from them. Ain't it fun to recognize bubbles from a graph?!

by das monde on Sun Jun 22nd, 2008 at 09:32:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... student that went to Canada will get any of the jokes, and even then most of them were before her time?

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Jun 22nd, 2008 at 09:33:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you very much, everyone.  I'm sorry if it seemed like I posted this and ran, but I wanted to get it written Sat morning before work, and promptly had to go to a wedding and was out of contact with the Internet for a while.

I shall look through the various links, and perhaps pick up a copy of some of the recommended books.

Thank you very much!

by Zwackus on Mon Jun 23rd, 2008 at 03:11:28 AM EST
Bon appetite!

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Jun 23rd, 2008 at 12:41:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Very interesting diary, Zwackus!

You will find data and statistics at the following sites:



"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Fri Jul 11th, 2008 at 05:27:09 AM EST
Also : Statistics - Human Development Reports (UNDP)

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Fri Jul 11th, 2008 at 05:32:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Also: Food and Agriculture Organisation: FAO: Statistics

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Fri Jul 11th, 2008 at 05:40:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Also: United Nations Industrial Development Organization: UNIDO - Industrial Statistics

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Fri Jul 11th, 2008 at 05:50:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Also: US Census Bureau International Data Base (IDB)

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Fri Jul 11th, 2008 at 05:54:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And finally, here is the United Nations Statistics Division collections of data sources links:


"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Fri Jul 11th, 2008 at 06:02:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
When i think of graphs and fun, this always comes to mind:
http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/hans_rosling_shows_the_best_stats_you_ve_ever_seen.html
by Torres on Fri Jul 11th, 2008 at 05:32:50 AM EST
Yes, and you can download their tools at Gapminder

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Fri Jul 11th, 2008 at 05:43:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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