Gapminder and Worldmapper

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Introduction: geography for a changing world

This page has been created to help geography teachers understand the importance of a fact-based world view and to change the way we think and teach about development.

It provides an introduction to Gapminder and Worldmapper and offers a selection of free resources to help you use these excellent tools with students.

A development question

Which country has the highest fertility rate?

A. Saudi Arabia
B. Israel
C. Bangladesh

The answer is A - the wealthiest country, Saudi Arabia, has the highest fertility rate of 3 whereas Israel and Bangladesh have a rate of 2.6. The association of 'higher fertility with poorer country' does not fit.

A knowledge-based world view and why it matters now

There is no such thing as a western world or a developing world’

Geography teachers and pupils are familiar with the concepts of 'less' and 'more' developed countries (LEDCs and MEDCs), of 'developed' and 'developing' countries and a global 'North-South Divide'.

For many years these concepts have helped students learn about inequality, however in recent decades there has been significant global convergence between these 'developed' and 'developing worlds', so much so that these concepts and terms no longer fit. In fact, they are wrong and if we use them we risk leaving students with a flawed view of the world that ignores recent economic and social change that has affected billions of people.

There is a need for geography teachers to challenge our assumptions, to change mindset and use a different vocabulary to describe the world. Young people need modern understanding of their diverse and changing world that is drawn from the reliable data that actually exists; they need this to understand the real change that is happening in their places and lives, and in the lives of others.

Geography has a powerful role to play in allowing students to build a current and knowledge-based world view, and to develop their understanding of meaningful data that is distinct from political discourse and personal opinion.

Taking action - how to get a knowledge-based world view

Using Gapminder

The Gapminder Foundation is a non-profit venture that makes current data about the world freely available in a format that is accessible, meaningful and dynamic, a kind of modern 'museum' on the internet.

Its aim is to 'fight the most devastating myths by building a fact-based world view that everyone understands' and to promote sustainable global development.

The Gapminder website is free to use and is a phenomenal resource for geography teachers and students. It uses the innovative Trendalyzer software to produce animated 'bubble graphs' that show how the countries of the world have changed. Users can change the parameters and so create their own graphs and animations.

The website also has a downloads page with a wide range of engaging videos that illuminate the data and emphasise the fact-based world view.

Gapminder is accessible to students and teachers alike and is an invaluable resource for making sense of contested concepts like uneven development, inequality and change.

Getting started with Gapminder

Gapminder World Guide - an easy to follow annotated guide to Gapminder World

Gapminder for Teachers - a number of resources on the Gapminder website ready to use in the classroom including a development quiz, animations and PowerPoint presentations

200 years that changed the world - amazing clip in which Hans Rosling uses Gapminder graphics to give a stunning picture of how the world is today and how it got that way

Reducing child mortality - Hans Rosling on the use of statistics and recent positive change

The world as you've never seen it before

The power of Worldmapper

Worldmapper is a fantastic collection of world maps where territories are resized on each map according to the subject of interest.

It is the collaborative work of researchers, including Professor Danny Dorling, at the Universities of Sheffield and Michigan.

The maps give powerful visual impact and clarity to current patterns in development and present an accessible and knowledge-based view of the world as it is now.

The Human Development Index scores of seven territories fell between 1975 and 2002: Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Somalia, Timor-Leste, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Since 1975 the populations of these territories have experienced civil and international wars, coups, droughts, disease, economic failure and international debts. The outcome has been that life expectancy, adult literacy, school attendance and Gross Domestic Product, which are used as indicators of Human Development, have fallen.

The Central African region as a whole is the one region to have experienced an overall decline in its human development index.

© Copyright SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan)

Free teaching resources

In 2010 the GA published 'Uneven Development - For Richer and Poorer' as part of the innovative GCSE Geography Toolkit series. The following lesson is taken from this book and has Worldmapper, Gapminder and the fact-based world view at its heart.

The lesson explores important questions: What is the 'development gap'?, How is the world changing? and Is the world becoming a better place?

Through internet enquiry students learn to use Gapminder and Worldmapper to find evidence to decide whether the gap is widening or narrowing.

Download: Lesson Plan 'Is the development gap widening or narrowing?' (PDF, 195k)

Download: PowerPoint 'Is the development gap widening or narrowing?' (PPT, 3.1M)

Download: Activity Sheets 'Is the development gap widening or narrowing?' (PDF, 351k)

Download: Activity Sheet Answers (PDF, 10k)

Download: Information Sheet 'Gapminder guidance' (PDF, 292k)

You can buy a copy of the book from the GA's online shop priced £15.99 / £10.99 for GA members (discount not applicable to Entry Level Members).

Quick Ideas for using Gapminder in a lesson today

Idea One: Card sort

A ready-made card game is available on the Gapminder website or you can make your own.

Give students a set of cards with a country name printed on each one and ask them to sort the cards in order of 'development level' or any other way they think appropriate.

Discuss their ideas and compare them to the Gapminder Worldmap.

Students often group countries into 'rich' and 'poor' and this activity helps explore the idea of a development continuum.
Idea Two: Commentary

The Trendalyzer software allows students to easily make animated bubble graphs that show how the development of countries changes over time. For example, the graphs could be made to show how life expectancy and income have change over the last 200 years.

Students could follow one country and comment on how and why the bubble representing that country rises or falls over time and who they overtake. To make the activity even more entertaining, challenge them to present a commentary in the style of a sports commentator (or the style of Prof Rosling!).
Idea Three: Development World Cup

Give students a list of countries participating in a sporting competition (Olympics, cricket, football or rugby world cup for example) and ask them to locate them on the Gapminder Worldmap.

Who would win a 'Development' World Cup? Who would top a 'Development' Olympics medal table? How does this compare to the real winners?

Quick Ideas for using Worldmapper in a lesson today

Idea One: Identifying maps

Show students a selection of maps without titles and give them a list of the map titles/subjects. Ask students to match the titles to the maps.

Careful choice of maps will help students understand contrasts - try maps for development increase, development decrease, GDP and proportion of people living on up to $10 a day.

Idea Two: Predicting change

Ask students to predict change over time before showing them the animations on global population change, internet use or income. How accurate were their predictions?

Idea Three: The most interesting map?

Give students time to investigate the Worldmapper website before asking them to select the map they find most interesting. Ask them to justify their choice.

Taking it further

Suggested resources for exploring the themes covered in this article in more depth:

GCSE Toolkit: For Richer and Poorer? A study of uneven development
Paula Cooper
For Richer and Poorer?
is designed to help teachers update their knowledge of uneven development. It offers practical teaching ideas and up-to-date, relevant resources for ten innovative lessons to support the new GCSE Geography specifications.

GA Annual Conference & Exhibition 2011
Hans Rosling
We are delighted to have Professor Rosling as the Keynote Speaker at this year's Conference on Saturday 16 April. In addition to this lecture, a number of other sessions will look at Gapminder, Worldmapper and development issue including 'Lecture Plus 8 - Using Gapminder and' 'Workshop 19 - Health, disease, death and geography'.

Getting to grips with the magic of Gapfinder
Noel Jenkins
Introduce your students to Gapminder with these lesson ideas - part of the KS4 ICT project.

So who was Herr Brandt and did he get his line right?
Jeff Stanfield
In this activity, students are required to make personal decisions on how best to divide the globe by levels of development - part of the KS4 ICT project.

Top Trumps of Development
Paul Bolton
Which country would win the World Cup if the results were based on their level of economic development rather than their ability to play football? To what extent is the success of a country's national football team linked to its level of economic development? By using these 'Top Trumps' cards, and comparing your results with those in the real World Cup in South Africa, you can find out the answers to these questions.

Making Geography Happen - Uneven Development
Paula Cooper
This case study demonstrates how Paula Cooper developed a unit of work for her Year 9 geography class based around the concept of uneven development. It includes information about how she created the unit, examples of student work and reflections from Paula and her class. Part of the Making Geography Happen project.

Gapminder: bringing statistics to life
Bob Lang
This Teaching Geography article provides an excellent introduction to Gapminder and offers suggestions for using it with students.

Challenging Assumptions: World poverty - what can we do about it?
Anna Barford
In this Geography article Anna argues that the way poverty is framed in mainstream politics and the media illuminates some aspects of the issue, while obscuring others. This framing may to some extent be responsible for the lack of improvement in the situations in which poor people live worldwide, as efforts to alleviate poverty may not be addressing its real causes. Rethinking how we talk about poverty, one of the most pressing issues of our time, can help us to see what is missing from dominant explanations of poverty. This article gives an insight into the history of the concept of 'the poor', and presents some critiques of thinking on poverty and actions to alleviate poverty.

Development and fieldwork
Cheryl McEwan
Cultural difference and identity tend not to be a feature of many books on development. Consequently, generations of students in the global North have been socialised into particular modes of thinking about the 'Third World' or the 'less developed world'. In response, this Geography article focuses on the ethical issues raised by the practicalities of fieldwork in development. It highlights some of the problems of conducting research in the global South for both development workers and students on fieldtrips. It concludes by proposing a number of ideas for a more ethical engagement between researchers and those they seek to research and represent.


This page was created by Paula Cooper, Head of Geography at King Edward VI Five Ways School in Birmingham.

With thanks to: 

Prof Hans Rosling and Daniel Lapidus of Gapminder
Bob Lang of King Edward VI Five Ways School

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