Very few of us think data is fun, unless, of course, you’re an accountant or some kind of math or physics whiz. I would guess that even fewer of our students get excited about the prospects of analyzing and graphing numbers and data. This doesn’t always have to be the case. Through the use of an interactive white board, graphing can be fun. It doesn’t have to be just about the numbers, it can be about interaction.
An interactive whiteboard is a whiteboard connected to a projector and computer that allows users to control it through touch. A projector projects the computer’s desktop onto the board’s surface, where users control the computer using a pen, finger or other device (using the finger is the most fun for most students — it gives that magical feel to it). Through the use of an interactive white board such as a Smartboard or ACTIVBoard and one of the many great graphing web tools out there, graphing and analyzing data can be fun and exciting.
One of the more popular online graphing tools available is Create-A-Graph. This great tool comes to us from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education. Exciting stuff, huh? Well, exciting or not, they’ve created a great tool.
Create-A-Graph gives you the choice of five different styles of graphs, from bar charts to XY graphs. The choices are great, but your capabilities for interaction with the Smartboard are limited. This site is very data-driven. All of the data must be typed in via keyboard and there is no way to “play” with the graphs using the interactive capabilities of the white board. It was fun to “mark up” the site using the Smartboard’s notebook software, which allows the user to draw on the screen using a pen or a finger, but there was no way to play with the graphs themselves. If you’re looking for a great online graphing tool, Create-A-Graph is the obvious choice, but if you’re looking to fully use the capabilities of the white board, it wouldn’t be my first choice.
However, there is a graphing website out there that allows you to fully use the drawing and interactive capabilities of an interactive white board, IF you can get past it’s name: Crappy Graphs. It’s too bad the name might prevent some educators from using this site in class because it truly is a great tool. The site allows users to create freehand line graphs or Venn diagrams, which really allow students to be creative and experience the “magic” of drawing on the board with their finger (regardless of grade level, all students love this.) For example, one might want to graph the Food to Mess ratio of various foods. Students can draw, using their finger or pen, the line graph, then easily add text and name the X and Y axes. With Crappy Graphs, drawing and creating the graph is so much fun, students will not even realize they’re learning. This is a fantastic and fun tool to introduce students to the wonderful world of data and graphing, if only we could convince it’s creator Brian Shaler, to change it’s name.
The third and final tool is not as data-driven as the previous two. It’s more of a diagramming tool, but it allows educators to fully implement the power of the interactive smart board. Lovely Charts allows you to create incredible flowcharts, site maps or people diagrams. What makes this site so perfect for interactive white board use is the ability to drag and drop almost everything onto your diagrams. Then, by clicking on the Create and Connect option, I can connect, using only my finger, multiple items or people in my diagram. There are many images, symbols and graphics to choose from and all of them can be added to your chart by simply dragging them with your finger. If you want to get your kids out of their seat, get in touch with the kinesthetic sides of their brains, and get them excited about the capabilities and the “magic” of an interactive white board, then Lovely Charts would be a very good place to start. You can view an excellent screencast describing the tool here.
Interactive white boards, combined with online tools can be an amazing way for kids to have fun and not even realize they’re learning. Introducing students to data and graphing can be a difficult sell, but using an interactive white board can make this introduction a bit less painful for your students.- JERRY SWIATEK