The Ellis Puppy Olympics: A Kids’ Data Visualization Challenge

Recently, it has been HOT in Austin, Texas, with highs getting close to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. As a family, we are always looking ways to keep entertained while we stay cool mostly indoors during the day. One day, while looking for things to do, the first edition of the Nightingale dataviz magazine arrived.

The magazine shares page after page of beautiful visualizations, educational articles and creative ideas. As an added bonus, it also comes with a kids’ mini dataviz magazine. The children’s booklet contains data visualization stories and how-to dataviz exercises.

Nightingale and the Data Visualization Society have the mission to “foster a community where every member benefits from resources that support growth, refinement, and expansion of data visualization knowledge, regardless of expertise level.” Keeping that community aspect in mind, the magazine offers many opportunities to participate through their dataviz activities and challenges. I particularly liked the “Dear Nightingale” analogue data creation challenge from Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec, authors of the dataviz journal Dear Data. The idea was to create a non-traditional data visualization (no drawing or computer graphs) using a personal dataset. This article, combined with some of the ideas from the kids data visualization articles by Gulrez Khan and Julia Krolik, inspired me to beat the heat by entering the competition with my kids.

Nightingale Magazine open to the Dear Nightingale analogue visualization challenge instructions, with a copy of a kids' data visualization activity from The Kids' Table insert laying on top
“Dear Nightingale” analogue data creation challenge challenge from Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec. Kids data visualization by Julia Krolik.

Finding a Dataset

We decided to create our own personal dataset by hosting a puppy Olympics challenge with our two dogs, General Waggington and Ava Glitterface.

Two large dogs run enthusiastically after a tossed tennis ball. The race is close, but the lighter colored dog gets the ball first.
General Waggington and Ava Glitterface competing in the “Race” portion of Ellis puppy Olympics.

We selected 10 skills to include in our Olympic games and constructed the competition so that each dog would be given three opportunities per skill to prove their abilities.

Two dogs "smiling" in front of a posterboard scorecard decorated with dog stickers and kids' drawings
General Waggington and Ava Glitterface standing proudly in front of their results during the Ellis puppy Olympics.

Choosing a Visualization

We created a poster scoreboard to track the results. The scoreboard was designed to produce a mirror horizontal bar chart, and the bars were created with puppy stickers. The kids had a great time decorating the board with their own doggie drawings.

Making a 3D Visualization

While we loved our poster scoreboard, the “Dear Nightingale” analogue data creation challenge required a 3D dataviz. We held a brainstorming session and ultimately decided to keep the mirrored bar chart, but flip the chart axis to vertical and make the data visualization out of clay.

The clay turned out to be a bit tricky to work with and some of the bars were lumpy, but we had fun making the graph. Overall we are very happy with how the graph turned out, imperfections and all!

Thank You

Thanks for reading about our Ellis puppy Olympics data visualization challenge. I hope that it might spark some fun data challenges in your own homes.

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Laura Ellis is the Vice President of Data Engineering & Platform Analytics at Rapid7. Her mission is to make data science and analytics accessible to everyone in a secure and scalable manner. She is co-organizer of Data Mishaps Night (www.datamishapsnight.com), an evening for data practitioners to share their data mistakes and learning. She has a long time blog where she writes about all things data: www.littlemissdata.com