To&Through Project Launch

We’re proud to unveil the To&Through online data tool, designed and built by Inquirium. The first of its kind, this interactive website was created to help every degree-seeking Chicago Public Schools (CPS) student achieve their goal by helping educators, parents, and policy-makers understand the factors that impact academic attainment from freshman year through college graduation. The site launched to the public on Sept. 20.

Check out the To&Through online data tool here.

One of the key goals of the website is to make data on educational attainment available to everyone, not just data nerds. Parents and students can use it to compare high schools, teachers and school practitioners can use it to measure their performance, and college counselors can use it to help students choose colleges where they are more likely to receive the support to graduate.

The website highlights the key milestones that matter most for students’ high school and college success: Freshman On Track, high school graduation, college enrollment, college persistence, and college graduation. Users can visually follow the outcomes of each milestone, examine trends, and explore breakdowns by demographics, qualifications, and risk & opportunity levels.  They can also compare the results for their school to schools with similar characteristics and to district-wide benchmarks. Filtering allows users to dive into even more detail, breaking the data down by gender, race, GPAs, etc.

An example page showing CPS's high school graduates.

An example page showing CPS’s high school graduates.

Interactive graph showing a school's college enrollments rates over the last 10 years.

Interactive graph showing a school’s college enrollments rates over the last 10 years.

Breakdown of CPS's college persistence rates.

Breakdown of CPS’s college persistence rates.

The launch was covered by Crain’s Chicago, who wasted no time sharing insights based on their own data digging:

“While graduation rates were rising, college enrollment rates for CPS students increased to 42 percent from 33 percent (vs. a 44 percent national average) between 2006 and 2014. Among CPS graduates who started college, the college graduation rates inched up four points to 50 percent (vs. 60 percent nationally).”

Beyond end-users, the tool also supports the ongoing work of the University of Chicago. The website has special staff tools to support the import and validation of new datasets, the management of downloadable reports, and the ability to author customized interactive tours, which guide users through “narrative dives” through the website, tailored to specific topics of interest.

This project was a perfect fit for Inquirium. Since our founding in 2001, one of our primary missions has been to help students, educators, and educational policy makers find meaning in complex data. We integrate the power of data visualization with techniques in narrative storytelling to help make otherwise invisible patterns visible. The To&Through data tool gives people, who wouldn’t otherwise have access to this powerful research, information they can use to make informed decisions that directly impact students’ educational progress.

The To&Through Online Data Tool was designed and developed by Inquirium for the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute (UEI) and UChicago Impact in conjunction with the Network for College Success. We worked closely with our clients and school-based educators to create a user interface that presents the research in ways that practitioners find actionable, including custom visualizations that tell meaningful stories. On the back-end, we developed a technical infrastructure that supports the client’s ongoing research.

We plan to continue refining the site as UEI and CPS stakeholders find new ways to use the data to help students achieve their educational goals. Read more about the To&Through project goals, and if you’re interested in trying out the data tool, we recommend taking a tour by clicking the friendly red button on the bottom right here of the data tool’s landing page (you can even customize the tour to a school of your choosing).

Questions about our role with To&Through? Want to get in touch with us? Send us an email at

Inquirium helps University of Chicago launch 5 Essentials school reporting site

Today’s a big day for one of our favorite clients, the Consortium for School Research at the University of Chicago. It marks the launch of a new and improved website for reporting the results of their bi-annual survey of 5 Essentials for School Improvement in Chicago Public Schools. Inquirium designed and built CCSR’s original survey reporting website in 2009, and today we are pleased to roll out the new and improved version.

The new site provides an interface to text and data visualizations that help principals, teachers, parents, and community members explore survey results on what makes their schools tick — areas such as learning climate, instructional leadership, ambitious instruction, professional capacity, and family and community involvement. The primary goal is to give school stakeholders insights into the factors that most impact student learning, in order to help foster improvement.

While today’s launch is a huge milestone, there is more to come. We will be rolling out additional improvements and enhancements later this month.

MacArthur showcases its “new media and learning” initiatives

Last Thursday, The MacArthur Foundation put on a showcase of its recent efforts to re-imagine learning. The event highlighted Katie Salen’s Quest to Learn, a school built on the principles of game design, as well as three initiatives by former Inquirium founder Nichole Pinkard: the Digital Youth Network, a program through which mentors engage young adults in interest-based digital media projects, the Remix World social media platform to support those projects, and the highly successful YOUmedia learning lab, a space at Chicago’s Harold Washington Library where teens can explore their interests using state of the art digital media facilities.

It’s exciting stuff, and we at Inquirium couldn’t resist getting involved. Last year, we helped redesign the teacher planning and design component of Remix World, and recently we began helping MacArthur expand it’s YOUmedia initiative by designing an online toolkit to support the creation of new sites.

The MacArthur event also featured a special appearance from Chicago’s Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, who seems to have his pulse on this movement — which is reassuring for those of us in Chicago.

The centerpiece of the event was a new PBS documentary, Digital Media: New Learners of the 21st Century which highlights these projects along with interviews from a number of educational experts.

Watch the full episode. See more Digital Media – New Learners Of The 21st Century.

ICLS 2010 iPhone App Released

We just released our first iPhone App: A conference guide to the upcoming International Conference of the Learning Sciences in Chicago.

It’s available directly from the App store. Just search on ‘icls’.

You can also visit our ICLS App web page.

It has all the features you’d expect from a conference app:

  • program guide
  • maps
  • a way to favorite sessions
  • search

And a few nifty features:

  • Off-line browsing — Set your conference schedule on the airplane! No network necessary.
  • Abstracts — Even if you’re not going to the conference, you might find it interesting to browse the app to see what’s being presented. Where available, we have included abstracts.
  • Social Media — Easy links to Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr. Use #icls to add your update to the stream!

We developed it in close coordination with the conference organizers, so it’s about as up to date and accurate as you can possibly get. (The program is actually still being updated as I type, so we hope to get in one round of updates before the conference.)

If all goes well, we’ll set our sights on AERA 2011!

Inquirium’s Evolution: Two new WGBH/NOVA interactives

WGBH/NOVA approached us to build two web interactives on the topic of evolution to go with their new PBS television shows. They were specifically looking for data-driven investigations. “Great!” we thought. We’ve done web interactives! We’ve done evolution! And no one does data-driven investigations like we do! Where’s the catch?

Oh, you want it done in 3 months?

Both of them?

After a very frantic 3 months, we are happy to announce the launch of Inquirium’s latest creations, a pair of web-based investigation tools for teaching high school students about evolution.

On the surface, these interactives look like just another database and animated diagram. But we’ve designed the interactives around an activity context which draws students into data-driven investigations.

  • Bones of Contention has students playing the role of a physical anthropologist trying to identify and classify “mystery” fossils using a database of most of the significant hominid fossil finds.
  • Regulating Genes introduces students to the evolutionary processes at work during development (and technically, at conception) by having them explore how mutations in both coding and non-coding areas of genes lead to different morphological features in a fictional creature.

Cramming what could easily have been two year-long research and development projects into a single 3-month timeframe was an interesting challenge. We sharpened our teeth building similar software for longer term grant-funded projects, which afforded more opportunity for background research, formative evaluation, and design iteration. For this project, we had to adapt our design process to fit a new sort of timeline, forcing us to commit to certain design decisions very early in the process and leaving very little wiggle room to explore emergent ideas. There’s nothing like a short timeframe to make us reflect on our design process and pare down our cycles only to the bare essentials.

While the interactives are simple by necessity and by design (both are scoped to work within 1-2 class periods), they draw upon models of inquiry and investigation that, unfortunately, still do not see much light beyond the realm of academic research and school reform projects. Kudos to NOVA for bringing this approach to a wider audience.

Both tools were created to accompany NOVA episodes commemorating the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s Origin of Species. One episode, “Becoming Human,” explores human origins, and the other one, “What Darwin Never Knew,” explores the emerging science of evo-devo.

We conceived, designed, and produced both tools. We also created a complete set of classroom materials that include background essays, student worksheets, and teacher guides.

YouMedia: Youth Media done right

For an example of the right way to create an after school environment supporting youth media, check out the YouMedia space that opened this summer in Chicago’s Harold Washington Library.

The space affords many types of interaction from casual hangout, to media production, to presentation. The program makes good use of mentors too.

YouMedia is a collaboration between the Chicago Public Library and Digital Youth Network (founded by Inquirium Alum Nichole Pinkard). Check out this spotlight from the MacArthur Digital Media and Learning initiative:

YouMedia from Spotlight on Vimeo.

Take a Stand & the Youth Exhibition Dedication at the Illinois Holocaust Museum

The IL Holocaust Museum dedicated their youth space this last weekend. We finally got a bit more coverage than we had in the past by the Pioneer Press. An excerpt:

“So here on a Sunday afternoon were the invited guests to the dedication, many of whom brought children and grandchildren to experience the offerings in this unique space. State-of-the-art technology is reflected in familiar computer screens as well as a not-so-familiar movie theater-size screen in a separate room. The all-enveloping screen is a part of an exercise that allows children to take on the role of frogs and make important decisions along their journey.

Still, even with technology that would rival the best of Nintendo and X-Box games, it would be a serious mistake to suggest that the exhibit serves simply as another venue for children to play with computer toys.

“The space we’re dedicating today is not a game room,” Harvey Miller said. “It is not a demonstration of the latest computer graphics. It is not a space for relaxation and resting. It is a teaching experience. It is meant to help provide the skills that parents, teachers, caregivers and the children themselves need in order to understand and use the lessons of the Holocaust. “

So it’s great to hear that our technology wowed the reporter. But I’m really glad Harvey Miller (the donor) was there to set the record straight.

The exhibit is admittedly hard to pin down in words.  Even docents can have a hard time with it. On the surface, it looks and feels like a video game: you control characters on a screen, you have some goal that you’re trying to achieve in the space (catching flies), and you have a score that tells you how well you’re doing.  But our goal was to deliberately use people’s expectations against them.  And not so much “teach” per se, but to provide a touchstone experience that could spark conversations about the universal lessons of the holocaust.

Now that the exhibit is open and I have a little more time, I hope to spend the next few weeks relaying some design stories from our experience.