by Amy Sanders
Yarmouth ME High School Teacher & Choices Teaching Fellow
Infographic 5 © Newsweek
I incorporate the CHOICES curriculum, The United States in Afghanistan, into my Middle East Studies course. The curriculum is an excellent resource that provides helpful information about Afghanistan’s history, geography, and people, and is the framework around which I build our study of Afghanistan.
When teaching CHOICES units, I often modify the policy deliberation into two distinct phases: first, I have students share key points related to their policy options; second, I move into a “fishbowl” discussion to deliberate the pros and cons of the policy options.
In the past, when teaching the CHOICES unit about the US Invasion of Iraq, I located data that the US Department of Defense reported to Congress. Before we began policy deliberations, I would project some of the data from these reports (which included, for example, graphs of weekly security incidents or percentage of Iraqis with electricity). I would ask students to sit with members of their policy option group and to confer and take notes about how each graph/chart related to their policy option. When we began the fishbowl deliberation, I had color copies of the data available in the center of the table. Students would reach for a relevant graph or chart to back up a point they wanted to make. This method encouraged students to incorporate additional relevant, current evidence into the deliberation.
I wanted to try something similar for our policy deliberation on Afghanistan, and this time asked students to analyze infographics related to the war in Afghanistan. I created a handout introducing students to infographics (which includes an analysis sheet). Students divided into small groups, with each group analyzing one infographic. I used the infographics from the links below:
Infographic 1 – The White House – Troop Levels in Afghanistan and Iraq
Infographic 2 – Internews – Violence Against Journalists in Afghanistan
Infographic 3 – Asia Foundation – Visualizing Afghanistan: A Survey of the Afghan People
Infographic 4 – Plumegraph.org – Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan
Infographic 5 – Newsweek – Where’s the Money Going in Afghanistan?
Infographic 6 – US Action – Ten Years of War in Afghanistan: Bridges NOT Bombs!
Infographic 7 – National Post (Canada) – Blood and Treasure
Infographic 8 – New York Times – Indicators of Worsening Security Situation in Afghanistan
Students rotated the writing responsibility in their infographic analysis and recorded interesting insights and thoughtful questions – including about media bias. Small groups then shared their analysis with the whole group; as teams presented, students within policy option groups conferred about how the data related to their policy option.
Overall, student feedback about the lesson was positive, including these comments:
“Visuals stick in the brain better.”
“This activity gave me a new way to think about data and a new outlook on the war.”
“It made all of the data and numbers relative, which made me better understand the implications of the war.”
“I saw trends that I hadn’t really thought about before.”
“Some of the infographics broke down abstract numbers and helped me to relate to them.”
“The infographics we looked at brought different perspectives and showed how you can manipulate data and numbers to make a point.”
“The infographic about the danger in Afghanistan helped me to see the progression of danger very clearly. It helped me to see visually that conditions there have not necessarily gotten better even after 10+ years of war.”
“This data helped me to better understand and reinforced a lot of what we already learned from the [CHOICES] curriculum.”
“I’d never really thought about how many civilians in Afghanistan have been killed by insurgents vs. the US military. The data showed that far more have died at the hands of insurgents. That was eye opening.”
Immersed in a media-rich world, students are drawn to visualizations of data, and infographics give us new ways to think about and understand information. I believe it’s important for educators to help students both to make connections to their prior learning and to analyze and challenge the information presented in infographics. Students’ analysis of infographics tied into the CHOICES curriculum on Afghanistan and helped extend student learning. It was fun and engaging too… a win/win for my students.
The United States in Afghanistan is available from The Choices Program website. It is also available as an iBooks Textbook from the iBookstore.