Web as Resource
Visual representation resources transform raw data into a chart or other graphic that makes the information readily accessible to users. Several online resources are available to help students "see" statistical information in a visual format. For example, a site might pull data from the news and display results using images, color, and text. Such representations create opportunities for students to detect patterns and analyze trends. Visual representation tools demonstrate how data can be modeled and manipulated to get different results.
Using Web-based news services to view, explore, and chart current events
Jeff Green teaches social studies in a small, rural high school. Few students have access to the Internet at home. Most appear uninformed about current events. His students perform poorly on social studies exams that ask for connections to world events.
Green has tried different activities for teaching current events. He has asked students to create a journal in which they choose a current event and write a response. This activity allowed for differentiated learning, but Green finds students tend to choose articles with little relevance to the class. Their writing is not as rich as it could be.
Green began by reviewing the research on cues and questioning. He realized they already form the basis of much of his classroom practice. However, he suspected he was not asking students the right questions.
He made three critical changes to his teaching approach to implement the research recommendations for improving learning. The first change was to structure his questions to focus on what is important, not on the trivial or unusual. He also modified his "wait time." Finally, Green realized many of these questions should be asked before the activity begins.
Green found two resources on the Internet that could improve the way his students understood the news. They were interactive and timely, and provided the added benefit of being visual representations of the events of the day, which supported multiple learning styles and provided entry points for students whose English was still developing.
The first resource is a newsmap. It displays the global stories that appear on Google's news section in visual formats with various cues of color, shape, size of text, and so forth. These visual cues are based on frequency of citation as well as category type.
Sharing this representation with students had immediate results. Not only were they intrigued to decipher it, but since each box links to a story, they could easily pursue the news stories that interested them. They learned that topics on a major issue (such as Iraq) appear in the national and international news section and are represented by a large shape, which means that many news sites are reporting on that topic.
The second Web site he used is called 10 x 10. It charts the top 100 news stories and includes photos from each. Students view the page and click on the images or an accompanying list to read the story.
Green asked his students to extend and deepen their understanding by charting a story over a two-week period. Using basic spreadsheet software, he had students create a chart that included six pieces of information.
Students constructed information-rich charts showing the story's change over time and across regions around the world. They examined the various ways a story was reported from different perspectives based on the country of origin. This activity revealed key ideas about news reporting in general.
Green's students now understood key terms in the context of the news they had reviewed. They spent more time analyzing the issues of bias and error, rather than focusing on simple factual summaries. Students became more and more eager to share their findings, and Green realized he should have scheduled more discussion time. He could also expand the use of the spreadsheet to track more quantitative data from the news.