Visualizing Billions- Visual Literacy in the Science Classroom

Recently there have been some monumental and historic moments that have occurred globally and locally.  Two that I would like to focus on are the world population and the floods in Thailand.  October 31st marked the date recognized by many as the day the world population reached 7 billion.  Many organizations seized on the opportunity to educate about the impacts of 7 billion people on this planet using infographics.  While this milestone was recognized world-wide, here in Thailand we were reeling from a huge flood crisis that has had (and will continue to have) a major impact on one of the world’s largest cities.  16 Billion cubic meters of water needed to drain in the Gulf and little Bangkok was in the way.  After lots of misinformation, the media sources finally started communicating their information in simple graphics and some ad-hoc groups helped put together resources as well.  For me, the world population explosion and the flood crisis are linked when considering human impacts on the environment.

How to communicate a major flooding event? It’s all in the whales!

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A group of graphic artists from a university got together and made 5 episodes about the floods in Thailand, targeted mainly at the urbanites in Bangkok.  They used whales to represent the water needing to drain to the Gulf and this video became incredibly popular with almost 1 million hits in less than 3 weeks.  The images and graphics that they used were immediately welcomed by the people here in Thailand because they are simple yet engaging.

Ideas for my Biology classes: I am interested in having my students choose an image that captures something meaningful for them about the flood.  These students have all been directly influenced by the flood, some more so than others, and they can create their own image or photo or they can find one on the internet.  They will then blog about why they choose the image, explaining the meaning it has had for them.  Because it is such an important event in their lives and the history of their country, I think this image and subsequent blog will become an important document that they can reflect back on in the future.

The World Population:

7 Billion!  This is an astonishing number for our planet and I found many interesting infographics that helped to understand make 7 billion more tangible.

For my Biology classes: For this topics, I would like to my students create an ‘awareness campaign’ related to this topic that incorporates some of the techniques used in infographics- such as clean design that transmits a lot of information in a visually appealing way. Students can choose how they personally would like to connect to this topic and work together to create an infographic about the world population.


I include other resources about the world population that I came across:

Finding you’re number: where does your birthdate put you in the spectra of world population?

A video that uses some good graphics about the world population

I enjoyed this video about the most typical person and include it here for fun.  The most typical person out of 7 billion

An NPR radio story  about how to visualize 7 billion

4 comments for “Visualizing Billions- Visual Literacy in the Science Classroom

  1. Avatar of Richard Moore
    November 24, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    I loved the Blue Whale video series! They were especially helpful for my ESL students since they were done in Thai and had English subtitles. One of my E-learning assignments for my science students was to prepare a presentation describing why Bangkok became so flooded this year. They were to use graphics, credit them correctly, and then describe what their graphic was showing and why they chose it. I was considering making this a PechaKucha assignment, but I had already assigned one previously, and I wanted them to practice writing their English this time. I gave them the Blue Whale video link to help prepare them, and also ThaiFloodEng for finding information and photos.
    I agree with you about the importance of infographics for science. They can be especially helpful for ESL students to show their data. When we discuss world populations I like to show them this world counter – link to

  2. Neil Commons
    November 26, 2011 at 6:05 am

    I also thought the whale message was possible the most effect act of communication that came out of the whole Thai flooding experience – so much information but with such clarity. I found my own students were either directly impacted or completely removed and used some of these images – link to to try and bridge this gap and help my non-impacted students really emphasise with those not so fortunate.

    And thanks for the great links on world population I am quite sure I will be using some of them in the future.


  3. Avatar of Ivan Beeckmans
    November 26, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    Paige, this is great post that links current, real world situations to both your class and the importance of visual literacy. The Malthusian (link to in me has always had me questioning how we can continue to grow as a world population when resources are finite. We appear to know this is coming, but what are we going to do about it? The NPR video was fantastic in its simplicity and gravity.

    I was also one of the 1 million people to watch the Thai flooding “whale videos”. In fact, I sent it to relatives back home to help explain the situation to them.

    How fortunate, in an unfortunate way, that you had these examples to draw upon. Any student would be able to see how infographics, graphics, images and video all help to explain things. They would also learn that it is not easy to explain the complex simply. The ‘In Plain English’ by Common Craft (link to is a genre that has great success in doing just that.

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