InspireData

InspireData is a solid, straightforward data analysis tool for kids from fourth grade through high school, which math, science, and social science instructors can use to help their students turn abstract data into practical understanding. Using a simple and easy to understand spreadsheet-style data entry system, students can quickly create a variety of graph types (such as Venn diagrams), rearrange the data in a variety of ways, and even add controls to animate the data based on different criteria. This last feature is one of the most useful, as it allows students to see the effects of changes to data in an engaging and interactive environment, and it is more interesting than static charts.

InspireData also allows students to capture the graphs they’ve created as slides with a single click of a button. The student can also play around with the data some more and capture the new graph as a slide, or click the Previous Slide icon to return to the former slide. You can create as many different slides as you want, and then use them as a part of a presentation. Unfortunately, these slides cannot be exported for use as a part of a Microsoft PowerPoint (   ) or Apple Keynote (   ) presentation. There are no options for exporting these slides as images.

InspireData includes several classroom-oriented projects to get would-be statisticians started, and instructors can guide students through these, or students can use the step-by-step guides provided in PDF format. However, other than a quick tour, InspireData does not include any interactive tutorials, which would be especially useful for students at home or in larger classes.

The data you visually represent in InspireData is not just limited to points on a graph. In addition to a variety of square, round, and diamond-shaped points, students can choose from an assortment of pre-built icons. They can also edit or design their own icons from scratch using the icon editor. The editor provides a slate of common bitmap editing tools (pencil, brush, eraser, lines, shapes and fills, color palette) and allows for the importing of bitmap images, including photographs. However, the editor does not allow you to use or import vector-based icons. This limits you to icons with a maximum size of 128-by-128 pixels, which will begin to look like mosaics at any size above that, or when printed.

One excellent feature that InspireData includes is the ability for students to quickly build their own questionnaires rather than having to enter data directly into tables. For students not familiar with spreadsheets, this can be an excellent bridge, and it’s a good way to collect data from outside sources. However, this feature is lacking since the questionnaires can only be run from within InspireData. It would have been truly inspirational if the questionnaire could act as a stand-alone application, a Web-enabled questionnaire, or even a Word or PDF form so that students would have a wide variety of options for collecting data. For example, if students were collecting family historical data, they could e-mail a copy of their questionnaire in PDF format to family members around the world, and later collect the results in InspireData.

InspireData’s interface does not follow the look and feel of a typical OS X application, instead relying on an interface that is shared with the Windows version, which is arguably better for students in dual-platform classrooms. The application is not currently Universal, but it runs on Intel Macs.

Macworld’s buying advice

InspireData is for teachers who are looking for a superior tool to help students turn raw data into meaningful information. By providing a simple working environment, InspireData works better as a teaching tool than more complex software like Microsoft Excel (   ). However, the limited data output options, low-resolution bitmap images for icons, and inability to distribute questionnaires are drawbacks.

[ Jason Cranford Teague is the creative director for AOL RED. He regularly rants about technology and culture on his blog. ]

With InspireData, students can collect data—for example, which types of hair color are represented in their class—and then view the data in graphs or charts, or even animate it.

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