Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Four: The Class of 2018

This time around, we are not looking at one story, but 605 of them. This untidy display shows the pathway all of our incoming seniors are taking to graduation. Will we put a nice little bow on their K - 12 career...or will we leave them hanging this year?

The display is a Sankey diagram made of nails, mason line, foam board, ribbon, paper, and an untold number of swear words. Starting on the left side of the photo you see above, there are four blocks of colour, each one representing one of the high schools in our district. Each block is labeled with the name of the high school and the number of students/strands leading off to the right. The strands then weave through three different graduation requirements. First is passing the state math test, then the state English test, and finally being on track for earning at least 22 credits by the end of this year. Students who have met a particular requirement are grouped at the top...and those who have missed one or more requirements run along the bottom of the display.

I just put the story up on Tuesday, and already I've had a lot of questions and interest in it...more than any other story (so far). It is a bit of a mess, I realize, but so is the process of learning and making one's way through high school. And if you've tried to make 600+ individual strands behave, you'd probably agree that I've managed to do a pretty good job.

Honestly, I hadn't planned on this particular story. I've been thinking about one related to transportation for months...but my Muse wasn't having it. And then I got pissed off. You see, our state legislature and superintendent of public instruction worked out a deal to weaken graduation requirements...starting with those pesky tests that some students struggle to pass (along with the alternatives). But kids in our district don't finish high school mainly because of credit issues. Among last year's senior class, only 3 were in danger of not graduating because they hadn't met the state standards. I can't change the law, but I can call some attention to the facts.

I pulled the data for our incoming seniors and the numbers reflected what I'd noticed last year. More kids have met the math requirement than any other. We hear all the time how students struggle in math, but these kids are all right.

I wish I understood more about how my Muse works. I seem to go weeks (or even months) at a time where I can't quite capture magic in a bottle...and then I get the right idea and feel compelled to complete it. I did most of the work for this particular story while I was on vacation in late July. As I was putting this display up, I had more than one person ask where I get my ideas. I really don't know. I have a general area or purpose I want to explore...and I tag different displays that intrigue me on Twitter or elsewhere...but when it comes to how the analog/physical stories shake out, it's all just figuring it out as I go along. After the Muse makes a deposit, that is.

The Build
My dining table is five feet long, so I used it as a template for
the strands of mason line. I wound them around and then cut each end. From there, I tied two strands to 1.75" roofing nails. I chose these nails because they had a sizeable head to keep the line in place and because they were shiny. I wanted something that looked nice.

Next, I used a nail and some grid paper to punch the requisite number of holes for each school into foam board. After removing the paper, I used a hammer to place the nails in, ensuring that all the string was pulled in the same direction.

I used picture hangers on the back of each foam board that was at the top of a section and white ribbon to connect the various areas, such as the schools or the "yes/no" for meeting standards or credit requirements.

I grouped the strands for each school using the data...sorting the correct number of strands into each category. Then, I tied each group so that I could transport it easily to work.

Lessons Learned
These projects are exercises in solving one problem at a time. Some problems are related to the data. Others are engineering issues, for example, "How I am going to attach this to a bulletin board without incurring the wrath of the facilities administrator?"

As I've noted with previous stories, I have to let go of my tendency to want everything perfect. At some point, it's more important to just get something out into the world. I have a million other things I need to do (at least it feels that way), but also manage this compulsion to put out this particular data tale. I am very excited about two more ideas I have in the pipeline. My original goal was to produce ten of these. I have a ways to go, but I'm learning more with each one.

I still have to build the companion web page for this display, but can work on that over the weekend. I want to share some data related to which students are not being successful and are in danger of not graduating in June. This, plus what's on the bulletin board outside my office will make for good conversation starters as we gear up for the school year ahead.

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