Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Sexy Data Analysis: Google Motion Charts

By on June 13, 2011

My district has started up a great summer professional development workshop series this summer. They asked teachers all over the district if they would like to teach a skill to other teachers, and in so doing, we have a heck of a series of classes starting up in mid-June.

I’m teaching a couple of them and I wanted to share one now with my readers. I actually presented this module to a small group of teachers a few weeks ago, and depending on the focus, I think the strategy can be used for many different purposes.

The main objective of the workshop is to make data analysis exciting. I know, you’re probably asking yourself: Is that even possible, Heather? Hey, whatever floats your boat. The fact is, however, that tracking data analysis doesn’t have to be a static representation of figures. It can be more dynamic, animated even.

In education, we use data tracking for any number of reasons as we all know. Now, for some districts, this means tracking their test data. For some classes, this means guiding students in presenting their researched data in a way that is closer to storytelling. For that is what animated data over time is: a narrative.

The best way to show you what I’m talking about is to introduce you to the perfect example of sexy data analysis. The guru of animated data is Hans Rosling. Founder of Gapminder.org, Hans Rosling takes data from public access sources: the World Health Organization, International Labor Organization, The World Bank, etc…and uses his program to track data over time and animate it so that we can better visualize the changes from year to year.

Here is a snip-it from his 2007 TED speech where he describes, using animated graphing, the correlation to life expectancy and number of children per family from 1962 – 2003.

So as an English Department Chair I was wondering if I could track my department’s increase in test scores over the course of the school year, from assessment to assessment, and realized that while I may not have the cash to ask ole’ Hans to crunch my numbers, Google Docs can do it for me.

To create your own motion chart, here’s what you have to do:

Step One: Make sure you have a Google Account.
Step Two: Open up a spreadsheet.
Step Three: Type in your data. To create a motion chart, don’t think of it as the X-axis and Y-axis, just type columns. See my screen shot below, and type in my made-up data so we can do this together. I tracked some mythical data of comic book sales over time between the ever popular “Invisa-girl” and “Macro-man.”

Step Four: Highlight the data you want to see animated over time.
Step Five: Go to Insert.
Step Six: Scroll to Gadget
Step Seven: Click Motion Chart

From here, make sure that you have clicked “Unique Colors” so you can see each variable move more easily. Also, make sure that the X-Axis drop down says “Time” so that that span of time is at the bottom of the graph, if it applies.

You can fool around with the bar graph feature, the line graph, etc…If you watch the dots move or the bar graphs, you can even devise comprehension questions without looking at the data itself.

For instance, “In what year was a cross-over comic produced that starred the two superheroes?” You can see that when the two dots overlap is most likely the answer.

Lo and behold! Animated comic book data over time. Wouldn’t Hans Rosling be proud?

I’d be really interested to hear about how you use this technology this year. Check back in and share!

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