Friday, November 11th, 2011...3:44 pm

Visualizing the numbers

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Did you know that math helped pick your clothes today? Indeed, you dressed up with math! One particular way this is true relates to the clothes you buy in a store. Your choices are constrained by the selections in the store.

Picture adapted from: http://stylizedlife.blogspot.com/2010/07/college-fashion-for-both-genders.html

To get a sense of what is “popular,” opinion groups rate products via surveys and polls. Data can yield a wealth of information. But, first, we must be able to interpret it.

Picture adapted from: http://paradelle.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/numbers.jpg

Graphs and charts are useful ways of representing many forms of data. A variety of different types of graphs appear frequently in the news.

First, we’ll go to the bar. Bar charts are a very popular and common means of visualizing data. We’ve all seen a bar chart with one bar telling us the progress of a computing device.

Picture credit: http://i.msdn.microsoft.com/dynimg/IC46037.png

Bar charts that use multiple bars enable us to quickly sense the relative size of different quantities. For instance, consider this chart depicting celebrity earnings from 2010 taken from Hollywood’s Highest Paid Stars 2011. (Click the image if you’d like to see it larger.)

Looking at the chart above, about how much more did Johnny Depp make last year than Nicolas Cage? Even without knowing the exact amounts, you can look at the relative sizes of the bars to get a sense.

Got pie?

A pie chart subdivides a circle into “slices” where each sector corresponds to a category. The area of each sector is proportional to the percentage of the items in that category. Keep in mind that a chart is intended to give useful information in a visual way. Let’s see some charts that aren’t as successful at displaying helpful information.

Picture credit: http://news.discovery.com/tech/pac-man-pie-chart.html

Picture adapted from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/35201559@N02/3276736156/

Picture credit: http://zipinotes.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/death-star.gif

While bar and pie charts are rather standard ways to visualize data, keep in mind that many other techniques are being used and developed. For example, here is a visualization of 30 school district mission/vision statements. This is very similar to the word cloud that appears in this blog that represents the frequency of different tags I use for my blog posts.

Picture credit: http://www.peterpappas.com/2008/09/visualizing-data-and-text-a-comparison-learning-strategy-that-works.html

What’s the best way to visualize data? It largely depends on the data and what you want to emphasize about the data.


Thanks to Kristianna Luce, a fellow in the 2011 Charlotte Teachers Institute Math through Popular Culture seminar, for inspiring this blog entry with her curriculum unit ideas for high schoolers.



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