IB Maths: Applications & Interpretation: 15 Countries and 200 years

15 Countries and 200 years

'What impact have key events had on the health and wealth of nations over the last 200 years?'

This activity makes use of the 'Awesome' (a word that should be used less but is totally appropriate here) Gapminder World resource. The resource enables us to look back at 200 years worth of world statistics about population, GDP and life expectancy (and much, much more). The activity is all about how we can interpret those statistics and answer some key questions like the one above! We are also asked to test and challenge our perceptions of countries and histories by looking at some real statistics. One of the key questions being asked in this activity is about the affect that World War Two had on development. Was the war a crucial period of development for the world and did we emerge a more sophisticated society as a result of it, in spite of it or not at all? None of these questions can be considered without examining the price that was paid.

The following scatter graphs show how life expectancy and GDP per capita have changed over a period of 200 years for a number of countries. Can you match the graph with a country from the list below?


  Images are screen shots from www.gapminder.org altered to conceal some information and add mystery


The following  15 Countries 200 years outlines the following task in printable form (it is embedded below).

The scattergraphs above can all be viewed on this Scattergraphs - 15 Countries page if you are working digitally or they can be printed from these files  Big Scatter diagrams   Small Scatter Diagrams (If they are then laminated and cut out they can be kept for further use.)

For the second part of the activity, students will need access to Gapminder World or teachers will have run this from the front if computers are not available. Just choose a country from the menu on the right and click play on the graph.


Here is a brief outline of how the activity might work

  • Students attempt to match the 15 graphs with the 15 countries. This can be done either with printed graphs or on computers using these pages.
  • There should be some rich discussion as this unfolds.
  • Students match significant events in history with features of the graphs.
  • Students pay particular attention to the periods before, during and after World War 2.
  • Based on these findings, then tackle the key question about the development around the time of World War 2.

Teacher Notes

Here are a few notes to help teachers think about running this activity.....

Where does it ift?

At our school, first year IB students start the course with a 2 day themed induction event. Students are grouped and asked to investigate the impact of World War 2 on general development. They are given a number of sessions from subject specialists who look at the question from the perspective of that area of knowledge. There is a local excursion and the result is that students write an essay answering the question. It is a really well thought out and rich way to start the course in way that is very much in keeping with the IB spirit.

This is the task I do when it is my turn. I am the first to admit that is not too challenging in the sense of mathematical difficulty, BUT it is crucial in helping students to develop the role of statistics in telling stories/truths and providing evidence for making arguments. Amongst the many things mathematics can be, it is a powerful tool for understanding the word around us. The exercise of trying to match the changing shapes of the graphs to historical events is really rich. There is a lovely colloborative element where students exchange general knowledge with each other and speculate about possible reasons.

Otherwise, this could easily fit in to the study of scatter graphs during the statistics unit.


One of the things I tried to build in here is that much of the puzzle can be solved with logic alone. The first questions students can make progress with are...

  • What does the size of the bubble mean? 
  • What significance do the colours have?

Teachers can decide how much help they want to give groups with this and at what stage. The aim being that we want to keep students interested without making it too easy. Once this is done, then the countries and easily grouped by colour and many can then be deduced by their relative populations.

General Knowledge

There after, progress depends on the group having some general knowledge between them. So much depends on your groups. Many will be fine here, but if not, there are ways to help without giving answers away. You might give students so clues. perhaps a system where students can ask three questions that you will answer. Maybe, after a certain time has passed, you will tell them one match of their choice. Maybe you will just ask them provocative questions. In any case, there are lost so ways to keep students engaged with this task when it looks like it is too difficult.


I don't make too much reference to ToK here because of the timing of the task and the fact that they will not be too familiar with the terminology. Otherwise, there is plenty of potential to ask students to consider the balance of reason and memory being used here.

Longer term, this could be developed in to a ToK Knowledge question like - To what extent do we use reason/memory/emotion to judge the long term effects of World War two. As I write, I am reminded of my History teaching colleague Russel Tarr who was telling me that JFK once said of the Berlin Wall that a Wall was better than a War. This perspective is challenging to our instincts and for that reason it is worth spending time with. WIth respect to the question about world war two, there are plenty of advances that can be seen as progress that provide the same challenge to perspective.

With reference to the scattergraphs here, one obsercvation that can be made is that there appears to be a more uniform progress in the post WW2 era. This prompts the question about causation.

We can also consider the logarithmic scales and what their impact onn the visual conclusions we make are.

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