SDGs Data in the Classroom

By Desmond Spruijt, Director, Mapping Worlds

When I meet Bram Hamburger, a Geography teacher at the Gerrit Rietveld College in Utrecht (the Netherlands), his students are all over the place. Coming and going in small sets, they are working on a lesson series he co-developed, about energy neutral cities. He is busy helping the students self-mobilize. Bram is a patient man. With all done, he explains me how our new website Maptanker is helping him. The site offers dynamic maps, charts, and topic introductions to a Dutch classroom audience.

For the lessons about energy his students need to find information for European countries. Not all students have the same level. Yet in Maptanker they all are able to find the relevant information, and in an inspiring way. This speaks to my experience it's worth putting forward a concise amount of information, rather than publishing all you have. In a Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) context, this is especially challenging. There will be an impressive body of data, per country, per sex, per income group. When communication of the SDGs is at issue, for example in education, how to slice it down such that, in the case of Bram's class, every student will still feel inspired to explore?

I like geography. It was a bit difficult to find the right map but once found it was very easy to understand the map, the legend and the time slider. — Eray Akay, student (age 14)

Clearly showing changes over time will certainly help. Immediately, this gives a way in for any viewer. In Maptanker we have a very prominent and crispy time slider. Color shades change, proportional circles resize. Seeing something change attracts attention and triggers questions, touching on both topic matter and data literacy. Is the change large or small? Sudden or gradual? Regional? Students are often required to compare specific countries. Bram invites them to use the line charts in Maptanker to see how two or more countries develop differently over time.

Topics in Maptanker are illustrated with world maps. This underpins the global character of most topics. For the SDGs in particular, it seems only natural to visualize them on a world canvas. Yet, learning about classroom usage in practice, it becomes clear to me a regional perspective is as important. Looking at values for the Netherlands compared to those of its European neighbors, a Dutch student may sooner feel part of the story. For SDGs-data communication a blend of both looks most appealing. National and regional outlooks to speak most directly to the audience, a global perspective to keep check on overall proportions and stimulate awareness of world affairs.

Maptanker is an initiative by Mapping Worlds. The website introduces top-level datasets in the fields of geography, economy, and social science to Dutch learners. The data are presented through maps, charts and short pieces of narrative to describe the topic. The site is powered by Tellmaps, our tool to create e-Atlases. We offer Maptanker as a free resource.