Data Visualization, Charts, Maps, and Interactive Graphics

Data Visualization, Charts, Maps, and Interactive Graphics

What feeling is evoked by the following words — data visualization, charts, maps, and interactive graphics? As an English teacher, I feel like numbers and symbols are swimming through my head. On the other hand, as a math teacher, I feel data fatigue and overwhelmed with already having so many skills to review.

I imagine that if you’re reading this, you’re interested in practical ways to integrate climate change topics into your classroom. If you want one simple approach you can use immediately, try using data visualization, charts, maps, and interactive graphics to develop student perspectives. For example, using any chart or graph, a teacher can open a class discussion using these two simple questions: If this graph is an answer to a question, what question is it answering? Or, If this chart is used to raise questions about something, what questions does it lead to?

Interested in exploring more about how to use data visualization, charts, maps, and interactive graphics? Take a quick look at these six resources SubjectToClimate has to offer and see if one stands out for you to try. I’ll give you a brief overview of the resource, why it’s great for us non-science teachers, and practical activities you can use in your classroom with these resources.

Our World in Data

Grade: 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects: All

Resource Type: Data

This extensive collection of interactive graphs, charts, and tables can be applied to every subject. Many of the resources can be manipulated to see how the data changes over time. For example, several resources chart carbon emissions from 1990 to the present and you can easily track changes in sectors like transportation and agriculture, or highlight a particular time period within a specific country or geographical region.

Non-science teachers can pick and choose or mix and match different data sets to supplement their existing units. Since the data is interactive, students have agency in exploring and the burden on teachers to create or alter data is low. Teachers can pose open-ended questions to inquire about what students notice, discover, or question. 

Humanities teachers can use any of these interactive graphs, charts, or tables to add depth to current fiction or nonfiction reading. Depending on the setting of a story or novel, English teachers can find a set of data from the same time period or focus on a similar industry mentioned in the reading. Writing assignments could include students choosing three kinds of interactive data sets showing similar information and writing a persuasive essay on which sector should be first to reduce emissions.

Social Studies classes can use any interactive data to compare and contrast different countries, evaluate economies, or learn about different ways of life. Government or economics classes could hold a mock national convention with groups of students assigned to different sectors. Using several sets of data from this collection, students could summarize their sector’s growth or decline in emissions and create specific plans of action for further reductions. Math classes could create real-life work problems to solve based on or using any of these interactive materials.

U.S. Drought Monitor

Grade: 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects: Science, Social Studies, Biology, Earth and Space Sciences, Economics, Health

Resource Type: Data

The U.S. Drought Monitor is a live website updated every week, providing drought summary information on eight regions: Northeast, Southeast, South, Midwest, High Plains, West, Caribbean, and Pacific. It also includes percentages, statistics, and time series for visually seeing past and current drought conditions. Information and data can be downloaded or exported to focus on state or regional impacts. 

Drought and water supply are growing issues at a local and national level. Stories on the impacts of drought on our everyday lives dominate the news every season. For non-science teachers, this real-time resource can be used to examine the current effects of drought. Teachers can focus on a region or state, and then a particular “impact sector” such as agriculture, tourism, water supply, or business. Using the resource’s comparison map or interactive comparison slider, teachers can create various activities or discussions focused on comparing and contrasting over time. To dive deeper, students can research how a particular region or state is addressing issues of drought, compare different approaches, and rank according to efficiency, cost, emissions, and so on.

Using this data, teachers can lead students to examine, discuss and explore specific problems related to drought. Students can identify and rank the impacts of drought on their region or state, while linking it to an “impact sector” of their choice. Students can research how local and state governments in each sector are addressing the impacts of drought, compare different regional responses and use the information to develop specific action plans for their own communities. Examples of some guiding exploratory questions students can research include: What is the historic and current drought situation of my state or region? What are some problems that arise in my state because of drought? What are current solutions at the state and local levels? What ideas do I have to address our current drought or water issue? Additionally, students can examine their own school or district’s use of water and engage in various writing assignments to highlight issues or persuade towards action.

Airport Tracker

Grade: 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects: Science, Social Studies, Earth and Space Sciences, Geography

Resource Type: Interactive Media

This resource is an interactive map showing carbon emissions for 1,300 global airports. Making the information easier to understand, each country’s aggregate emissions are broken down by the total number of passengers that fly through the airport. The interactive data also frames a country’s aviation emissions to the equivalent carbon emissions in cars or coal plants. 

Recognizing that air and car travel are prominent modes of transportation, this resource presents carbon emissions data in a very easy-to-understand way. With a few key facts and a simple pie chart, students can independently explore countries and airports using the drop-down menu. This resource incorporates minimal teacher guidelines, encouraging students to develop their own questions to answer or topics to explore. 

This resource would be a great stand-alone lesson or activity, especially on the days before a long weekend or break. Students could focus on countries as a whole, or focus on specific airports in certain countries. Options for topics using this resource include picking two similar-sized countries in population and comparing their two busiest airports, comparing airports in one state or region, or redisplaying aviation data in the framework of total annual car emissions. Students could choose different methods to present compiled information from an oral presentation, written summary, poster, or different charts and graphs. 

As a fun activity, students could work in pairs on a scavenger hunt to find the five U.S. or international airports with the most carbon emissions. Younger students can make a list of educated guesses, support them with reasoning, then discover the answers through the resources. Teachers could plan a class trip to another country or state and have different groups of students calculate the carbon emissions if the class traveled by plane, car, train, or boat. As a climate action activity, students could explore specific ways that airports can reduce carbon emissions.

Survival by Degrees

Grade: 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, AP® / College

Subjects: Science, Social Studies, Biology, Geography, Math

Resource Type: Interactive Media

For those concerned with the impact of climate change on animals, this resource is for you. This interactive resource from the National Audubon Society allows students to examine how global warming affects specific birds and their habitats. Students pick a “warming scenario” of a 1.5 to 3-degree Celsius increase in temperature, then the interactive map shows a colored region of habitat change.

The second half of this resource allows students to enter their zip code and view birds in their area. The website will automatically list the number of bird species whose conservation statuses are classified as stable, low, moderate, or highly vulnerable. Students can browse thumbnail images of all the birds in that region, then pick any bird to explore how they are and will be affected by global warming.

Teachers can download a detailed and extensive “state brief,” and use different parts of it for nonfiction or supplemental reading. Younger classes can use this research to study their state’s bird, write a brief overview, draw a picture of their habitat, and examine how a 1.5 or 3.0-degree warming trend will affect their habitat. Math teachers could use the interactive map and data to calculate or estimate the percentage of habitat loss. 

Yale Program on Climate Change Communication

Grade: 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects: Social Studies, Civics, Geography, World Languages, English, Social-Emotional Learning, Math

Resource Type: Interactive Media

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication has seven resources focused on American and Canadian perspectives, interests, and opinions as they relate to climate change. One interactive map shows polling data about climate change while another resource highlights how a short four-question survey categorizes Americans into six tiers of climate concern. It provides data on American levels of interest in climate change organized by state, district, or county, and charts opinions on climate change over time. Instead of focusing on one particular issue of climate change, this set of resources takes a broader approach. 

This group of resources focuses on internal reflection, and is perfect for helping students connect to, engage in, and articulate their personal feelings about climate change. It also sets individual feelings and opinions in the context of a national-level discussion. For teachers who are new to climate change discussion in the classroom or who are nervous about diverse student or community attitudes towards climate change, this is a great first resource to identify and explore where students are individually or as a group. 

There are many opportunities to use this resource in all levels and grades — here are three that come to mind. All students in a class could take the four-question survey and see where they fall in the six tiers. Teachers can reorganize the classroom into those six categories and explore various activities including comparing the class’s results to the national average displayed in a pie chart, discussing how students feel about their tier, and exploring how student feelings and opinions reflect their tier. 

Students can generate their own fact sheet for their state using a dropdown menu to view the specific “beliefs, risk perceptions, and policy preferences” the American public has. Teachers could have students compare different urban, suburban, or rural areas within or across states to determine similar beliefs or different perceptions as they relate to climate change. Using the resource on Canadian public views and opinions, teachers can have students compare Canadian and American viewpoints and policies. 

Creative writing assignments at any grade or level can include creating fictional characters that each express a different climate change belief or viewpoint. Younger students can create a character map and include a drawing, while older students can write a climate fiction piece using their characters and a general or specific climate change topic. Teachers can challenge students to use a realistic setting, incorporating that area’s public opinion into the backdrop of the story.

ParkScore® Index

Grade: 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects: Science, Social Studies, Civics, Geography, Justice, Health

Resource Type: Interactive Media

This resource evaluates specific parks across the country according to five categories: equity, access, investment, amenities, and acreage. Students can explore the top 12 cities and analyze why those parks are rated at the top, using easy-to-read and color-coded horizontal bar charts and graphs. Or, students can look up specific cities for the ranking of those cities’ parks.

Most teachers and students can relate to visiting or playing at a park — there’s almost an immediate personal connection. Because of this, teachers can open with discussion questions or quick writes about students’ park experiences: Describe one of the best parks you’ve been to. Describe the perfect park that all people could enjoy. How would you rate your neighborhood park? What would make your neighborhood park better? Why are parks important? Why do you think communities need parks?

Students can type in their hometown or a nearby city to find its overall park rating.  Scrolling through, students can explore how parks are distributed by age, income, and race, and see on a map where parks are needed most in a given community. Students can choose a city to compare and contrast parks based on each categorical rating or distribution. Students can make predictions about park ratings in urban and suburban areas, then extend those conclusions into a discussion of equity. Teachers can focus on the parks of the surrounding neighborhoods and have each student group research one. These groups could take into consideration the rankings in the five categories and brainstorm ways to improve each score. Math teachers could use this resource in lessons applying student understanding of median and percentages.

After using this resource to explore several cities and their parks, students can create their own parks using the resource’s definitions of equity, access, investment, amenities, and acreage. These five categories provide a built-in rubric for students to self-check, peer-evaluate, or grade as a cumulative assessment. Additionally, each state has a list of park projects that are completed, in progress, or upcoming. Each description has a picture, summary, update, and ways to get involved. Depending on where students live, these projects could provide great opportunities for student and community action.

Data visualization, charts, maps, and interactive graphics are all just fancy ways to organize information in order to draw meaning, find similarities, highlight nuances and explore conclusions. From a simple T-chart or Venn Diagram to an elaborate spider or flow chart, every teacher in every subject area can help students develop reading and interpretation skills. Using a topic like climate change, we non-science teachers can encourage students to practice using various modes of data visualization, charts, maps, and interactive graphics in a real-life context. 

I hope I’ve given you some concrete suggestions to get your ideas flowing. Try it out. Start somewhere. Pick one of these resources and activities, or even just a graph or chart, and add it to what you’re already teaching.

About the Author

Yen-Yen Chiu

9-12 English, Math, and Music Teacher

I've been in public education since 2001, teaching multiple levels of English and math for middle school and high school in California and New Jersey. I've been credentialed in English, math, and introductory music. I have a doctorate in Educational Leadership. I love creating interdisciplinary curricula with student choice and assessments that can highlight different learning styles and knowledge applications.