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Idea 9 Getting to grips with the magic of Gapminder

Getting to grips with the magic of Gapminder

This project idea was contributed by Noel Jenkins

Exam Board Components that this project links with
AQA A Unit 2, Section A: Population Change
Unit 2, Section B: The Development Gap
AQA B Unit 1, Section B: The Urban Environment
Unit 3: Investigating the Shrinking World
Edexcel A Unit 1, Section A: Geographical enquiry and ICT skills
Unit 3, Section A: The Human World
Edexcel B Unit 2, particularly Topic 1: Population Dynamics and Topic 7: Development Dynamics
OCR A Unit A673: Similarities and Differences
Unit A674: Issues in our fast changing world
OCR B Theme 2: Population and Settlement
Theme 4: Economic Development
WJEC B Theme 3: People Work and Development


During one of my most memorable lessons with year 11, I showed the full 19-minute video of Hans Rosling’s June 2007 presentation at TED, ‘Debunking third-world myths with the best stats you’ve ever seen‘ . Confounding my expectations that they wouldn’t remain focused, the class was transfixed by the lecture. Hans Rosling developed the Gapminder development data visualization application that is featured in the presentation. At the time of writing over 100 datasets are available, and the ‘Trendanalyser’ web application makes it extremely easy to correlate and map the data, as well as analyse trends and patterns.

This lesson is designed simply to introduce the students to Gapminder. No particular ICT skill is required from the teacher, although it would be sensible to familiarize oneself with the interface before embarking on the lesson. I also recommend reviewing the Hans Rosling lecture referred to above to decide if it is likely to be suitable for the class, and if so, whether to show the whole film or excerpts. In terms of ICT requirements, students work either singly or in pairs, each with access to a computer, and an interactive whiteboard would be an asset at several points during the lesson.

Overview of this Activity

Option one: An open-ended task where the teacher sets an objective along the lines of ‘find out what you can about the world in 30 minutes’ and allows serendipity to take its course.

Option two: A more structured task incorporating several objectives including the following:

  • Students identify at least one global trend from the data
  • They describe changes in one development indicator over time for at least one named country
  • They discover at least one positive and one negative correlation between two datasets
  • They compare a development indicator for several countries at different stages of development over a period of time.

Both options result in each student giving a short presentation to the rest of the class about their findings.

Key Geography Objectives

The lesson will be relevant to the development theme of any GCSE specification. The proposed AQA syllabus A for example, requires students to know about a number of different measures of development and how these may correlate, as well as the limitations of using a single development measure.

Key ICT Objectives

  • To become familiar with the use of the Gapminder website
  • To describe and interpret statistics from an online source
  • To communicate findings using an interactive whiteboard

Running the Activity

1. Consider showing the lecture by Hans Rosling mentioned above. Some students will want to watch the whole of the presentation, and will be rewarded by an extraordinary finale! However, it may be judged that watching the whole presentation is inappropriate for certain classes.

2. Demonstrate the main features of the Gapminder interface to the students – an interactive whiteboard would be ideal. There is a helpful guide that can be downloaded if required, or alternatively show the video guide from the Gapminder World blog (see Links section below). Students seem to master the basics of using Gapminder extremely quickly, so teachers should avoid spending too long in demonstration mode!

3. Give students time to explore the statistics. Regardless of whether option 1 or 2 was selected, they should be encouraged to note down the patterns, trends or relationships they discover.

4. Allow time for the class to discuss the findings.

5. The teacher could display a couple of pre-chosen graphs to further the discussion. For example select Rwanda and compare ‘Life Expectancy’ with ‘Time’, and run the animation from 1950 to the present day. What factor could explain the trend?

6. As a plenary, students could take turns at describing and explaining an animation of their choice (in the style of Hans Rosling?) This would ideally be done using an interactive whiteboard.


Gapminder Tools – keep up to date with all the latest changes to the software.
Gapminder User Guide from Juicy Geography.

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