Visualising the Magic of a Lexicon


International Classroom Lexicon Project: Data Visualisation


Words are our most inexhaustible source of magic.'

- JK Rowling


There is a quiet joy that comes with learning and sharing new-to-me terms that describe familar ideas or experiences. The International Classroom Lexicon Project documented the vocabulary of mathematics teachers around the globe to name classroom phenomena; offering us a wealth of this unfamiliar-familiar feeling. This soon to be published book, Teachers Talking About Their Classrooms, contributes to the body of knowledge on the professional vocabulary of teachers.

The research by the Finnish team, led by Markku S. Hannula, brings to us terms like 'ty├Ârauha', used by Finnish teachers to describe the climate for their classroom to allow for focused study.

The visualisation of the lexicons started with this single term from the Finnish chapter. The design takes inspiration from Erja Hirvi's fabric design for Marimekko of blossoms on a snowberry tree.  The terms in the lexicon grow from a deep knowledge rooted in the experience and expertise of mathematics educators. The design places the single term into a contextual display that uses the familiar conventions of a dictionary. When we assessed the effectiveness of an animated gif for each term, this might help with sharing of terms, but it didn't give the reader the opportunity to explore and discover, so we moved onto the next iteration of design and development.

The next iteration was to create the means for exploration and discovery across a single country's lexicon, focussing on the Australian Lexicon. The data was wrangled from the original word documents using a python script. These were then visualised using the powerful D3 library and based on Jim Vallandingham's excellent tutorial on bubble charts. The colours have been assigned from Cynthia Brewer's palette for qualitative data sets.

The terms developed by the Australian team, led by Carmel Mesiti, are visualised as wattle blossoms, with all terms shown in a single view. Edward Tufte in Visual Explanations talks of confections: this confection is an imagined scene of a tree of mathematical lexical knowledge combined with compartments to show detail.

Each term can be examined more closely with the use of a rollover feature, displaying a detailed description and categorisation of the term. The visualisation shifts between a grouped representation of all terms, and a view that splits these terms into their categorisations. This visualisation is continuing to evolve with feedback from the researchers.

The interactive visualisation supports the reader in taking a closer look at the terms included in one of the five categories. This co-designed representation draws on the researcher's deep knowledge of the work and the developer's knowledge of data visualisation. We hope that interacting with the lexicon provides an entry point into the book for a deeper dive into the professional vocabulary of mathematics teachers.

Australian lexicon terms shown as wattle blossoms and rollover window shows definition of term 'reciting;

Amanda Belton and Carmel Mesiti