Tuesday, August 14, 2007

InspireData from Inspiration

I originally wrote this piece about a year ago but thought that it would be of interest to you. This is a very exciting piece of software to help students make sense out of data by teaching them how to do analysis using visual and analytic methodologies.

After checking in to the National Educational Technology Conference at the San Diego Convention Center I decided to see what materials the Exhibitors had left for us in anticipation of the start of the conference on the following day. To my surprise, the Inspiration Company, was about to announce a new product called InspireData, which really intrigued me. Having been a long time user and trainer of Inspiration products I was excited to see a product that was cross curricular and that could help students develop their ability to analyze data. With all of the data that is around us, students more than ever before need to develop their ability to make sense of the data and interpret what it all means. In this respect InspireData gives students the tools to begin to sift through data sets and draw conclusions by using visual methodologies. Students canuse Venn, stack, pie and axis plots to help them interpret and draw conclusions about the data set they are working

A Closer Look
Having played around with InspireData for the past week or so and I am very impressed with the user interface and its ease of use. InspireData comes with over 50 data sets on a wide variety of topics and subjects, which are sure to engage students in the inquiry process. InspireData data sets span the areas of science, mathematics, social studies and more and give teachers a great place to start in learning how to use the program. Some of the examples of the data sets that are included are: US Immigration, World Population, Plant growth, Planets basic, NBA Statistics, and Hurricanes, Both students and teachers will find something of interest in these varied data sets to pique their curiosity and to engage them. Using a very similar metaphor as you will find in Inspiration students can move from the Table View to the Plot View with a click of the mouse. When starting the program students can select one of the pre-made data sets or students have the option of entering their own data directly in the application. Students also have the option of importing data from tab delimited or CSV files. One of the really nice features is the ability for teachers to create a Questionnaire which then allows students to fill in data into a form as one would find on the web. This really facilitates data entry and assures that the required data is properly entered into the Table. Teachers can set up a computer with the Questionnaire and have students enter data that they collected right into InspireData. Once the data is entered into the Table that is when the fun really begins. Switching over to the Plot view students can decide which of the type of plots can help them to visualize their data and make meaning from the disparate data points. Students can use the following types of plots to better help them understand their data: Venn, Stack, Pie, Axis, and Time series.

With a click of the mouse students will be able to switch from the Table view to the Plot view to begin plotting their data. InspireData adds two unique types of plots, the Venn and the Time series plot. The concept of Venn plots may be new to students at it really helps students to visually how different variables in their date tables are related. InspireData allows
students to have up to 3 hoops as they are called when they are creating their Venn plots. In one of the sample data sets called Sleep Survey students can begin to explore how the number of hours of sleep is related to the ease of waking up or if there are any relationships between gender, age and hours slept. Within each of the Venn loops students can set the filters that determine where the data points move to. This is highly visual and students can quickly begin to compare and see how the data points are grouped. For example in the first loop you can have a filter that says Hours Sleep < proccess=" hard.">

InspireData invites students to look for relationships and makes it extremely easy to change filters when creating Venn plots. One of the unique plots that your students will find in InspireDate are Time series, InspireData allows students to plot a series of data as a line graph representing change over time. Once the data is plotting you can animate the data to illustrate the change over time. This is a great feature for scientific data that your students may collect as part of a science project. Students will enjoy the ability to create the Time series plots and see the relationships evolve over time. Once students have analyzed and plotted their data, InspireData will allow them to capture their slides (plots) so that they can retrieve it at any time. When students capture a plot, InspireData records the following information: plot type, axis assignments, notes, view constraints, labeling/coloring and the plot title. Students can rearrange their slides in the slider sorter and use them to present a slide show. Students also have the ability to Update slides from the Slide Sorter if they have made any changes to them for example adding a note.
InspireData is one of the more creative cross-curricular tools that
has come out in a long time. There is something inherently engaging about the
program that will keep students asking questions about the data they are studying. As I noted students and teachers will find the program easy to use and the 50 data sets that come with InspireData should meet the needs of many teachers. InspireData is a program that you will want to jump in and play with as you explore relationships with your data set. With so much data being produced today it is imperative that students become informed consumers and learn to use tools like InpsireData to make meaning of data in the world around them. InspireData has tremendous cross-curricular applications and will quickly become of the leading analysis tools in the K-12 educational marketplace.

Reprinted by permission from Inclusion Times, which is published by AssistiveTek,
. Brian S. Friedlander, Ph.D. is a trained school psychologist, with expertise in the area of assistive technology.

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