The “Wow!” Factor

Sometimes you see things that are so amazing that it seems almost criminal not to share them with other people.  Being a teacher, I have a ready-made audience to share my enthusiasms, and I long ago concluded that anything that is extraordinary and mathematical, even if it is unrelated to the topic we are studying, is worth sharing.  There is nothing trivial about having students say “Wow!”  So here’s something that did that for me a year or so ago– Hans Rosling’s Ted.com talk about the world’s demographics, using data-rich graphs:

In that talk, he uses a program that makes animations of data in beautiful and intuitive ways and that yield real insight.  Since he made that video, he has started a website where that program is available for use directly on the website using Adobe Flash. The site is   http://www.gapminder.org/   and it really is a wonder.  My son, in the 6th grade, couldn’t stop playing with it, and was immediately drawn in to the questions the graphs you create present.  Why was there a “Bangladesh Miracle”?  Why does China’s life expectancy suddenly drop 20 years around 1960, and then quickly rise again?  Why did the average number of children per women in the U.S. rise sharply between 1940 and 1970?  Why is the connection between average income and mortality so varied in different parts of the world?

I never was that interested in statistics and data analysis when I was in school.  With this program, it takes a herculean effort NOT to be interested.

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