Sparking Curiosity in the Humanities: Data Visualization

As a science teacher, I often get the following statement when working with other educators: "Sparking student interest in the Sciences is just easier. You get to show cool demonstrations and stuff...".

Yes, this is very true. It can be easier.

BUT, I recently had an incredible conversation with a Humanities teacher at my school, and she shared some incredible great resources for leveraging data visualization a method for sparking student curiosity in the humanities. 

If you are not familiar with data visualization, check out this talk. 

By finding a visualization, downloading it, removing specific information (titles, legends, keys, etc.) and displaying it to students, questions emerge. 

For example, this visualization of drought patters over the course of the past 100 years in America can be a powerful spark to build student interest in the Dust Bowl. 

Show students the image, say: "What are you curious about?"

Questions will emerge that will vary but ultimately, because of the nature of the visualization, students will not only ask "What does the orange region represent?", they will also notice that similarities exist between the  the 1940s and parts of the 2000s. 

Questions will emerge related to differences in farming practices, the economy, polities, etc.

​Suddenly a conversation related to the core causes of the Dust Bowl emerges without even discussing the Dust Bowl directly. 

​THEN, the next day (or for homework) show Ken Burn's documentary on the Dust Bowl. Delay the instruction. Delay the mentor! It's how the Hero's Journey operates. 

Below are some excellent Data Visualization Resources:  

What's Going On in This Graph? 
Information is Beautiful 
New York Times Data Visualizations 

cross posted at

Ramsey Musallam teaches science and robotics at Sonoma Academy in Santa Rosa, California, with the aim of fostering inquiry-based learning environments fueled by student curiosity. He presents widely on sparking student curiosity and teaching with technology. Musallam is a Google Certified Teacher, a YouTube Star Teacher, and a Leading Edge Certified Teacher. Watch his TED talk here and read his blog at