Use Google Public Database Explorer. Your kids get smarter
The shift is on. We’re moving beyond simple rote memorization and direct instruction to a more hands on, interactive and evidence-based learning method. We want kids to solve problems and communicate solutions.
That’s a good thing.
But as we all get better at giving kids problems to solve and asking them to use evidence to solve those problems, it’s easy to focus on certain types of evidence. Diaries. Journals. Speeches. Photos. Maps. You know . . . the basic types of primary source documents many of you having been using forever. Absolutely nothing wrong with those types of evidence. Heck, secondary sources work too.
What can start to happen, though, is that we rely too much on the old reliables and never ask kids to use more complicated kinds of things. And one type of evidence that we need to start using more is the huge amount of public data that is available. Statistics. Population numbers. Demographical data. Movement of people and materials. This kind of stuff is perfect for creating authentic problems and encouraging creative solutions by your students.
The problem, of course, is that the data has been hard to access and even harder to make sense of. But there is a solution. Right there in plain sight. Most of us just missed it. The Google Public Database Explorer is an online tool that can quickly provide access to large amounts of data in ways that are easy for you and students to understand.
The Data Explorer uses a variety of data sets from places like the World Bank, the US Center for Disease Control, International Monetary Fund, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, and 130+ other organizations. The cool thing about the tool is how it allows you to quickly create visual representations and then make comparisons between different visualizations. The even cooler things is that for each visualization you create, Google creates a specific url that you can share with others or embed on your own website.
It’s simple to use. Search for keywords in the search box. Click on one of the results. You get a graph. Adjust the filters on the left sidebar, select the type of chart or graph you want in the top right hand corner, and as if by magic . . . interactive visualization.
Start with Google handy video overview:
Need an example?
Start with two screenshots using the very cool historical Streetview option in Google Maps.
Give kids a quick hook activity type problem to solve. It might be as simple as “Why do these two places look different?” You might do a simple visual DEI that asks kids to figure out where, when, and what? Just something to get their brains moving around a bit in the right direction.
(I’ve blacked out the Google Maps Historical Streetview information in the top left corner.)
Eventually you and students will work out that this is the same address in Detroit. The first image was taken in 2009 and the second in 2013. So why the difference? People moved away. The houses, and neighborhood, deteriorated.
So . . . why did they leave?
Using the Database Explorer, students can begin to use evidence and see it in accessible ways. Have them compare the following charts and ask them how they are related. This could be done in small groups, whole groups, in written form, on a shared Google Doc.
You can add or subtract different cities in different regions. Use the slider across the bottom to change time. And now we can start asking a whole different level of questions that focus on cause and effect, change over time, context, government policy, economics, all sorts of stuff.
Why did population change? Why did unemployment go up? What was happening in 2009? Why did it happen? How and why did the federal government get involved in Detroit? (or Nevada or Florida or your region) Should it have gotten involved? How has the region changed since 2009? Is that good or bad?
Then ask students to create a public policy white paper outlining their suggestions for addressing the problem.
These are the kinds of things we need to be doing. And I know many of you do this all the time with the “traditional” kinds of primary sources. But the Public Database Explorer gives you a new tool to explore. And I’d love to hear how you use it with kids.