Why is it important for K-12 students to understand data and statistics? “Understanding how data is used, how it is collected and why it is collected helps you understand that you can be held accountable by it or that you can be manipulated by it,” says Professor Hollynne Lee

It’s part of the monthly “Ask the expert” series in which professors at NC State College of Education answer some of the most frequently asked questions about education.

Students and teachers are surrounded by data every day and often use it to inform their decisions without fully understanding where it came from or how it was compiled. This is one of the many reasons why Hollylynne Lee, Ph.D., professor of mathematics and statistics education at NC State College of Education and senior faculty member at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, believes that the Teaching statistics is so important to students and their teachers.

Lee, who is one of three national finalists for Baylor University’s Robert Foster Cherry Award for Teaching Excellence, has spent more than two decades researching learning statistics, probability and of data science with the aim of understanding how students learn these concepts and how this learning translates into educational opportunities.

Students and adults alike regularly use the data, she said, to make decisions on topics ranging from their health and fitness to deciding whether to make a purchase based on a recommendation. from Amazon. However, most people do not understand the life cycle of this data, which includes where it came from, how and why it was collected, who collected it, and how it was processed and analyzed.

“Understanding how data is used, how it is collected and why it is collected helps you understand that you can benefit from it or be manipulated by it,” Lee said. “We want our citizens to be able to make sense of the data presented to them in the media and to be able to make the decisions that are right for them or their families. “

While almost all STEM careers require some understanding of data and statistics, Lee said data mastery is important for a variety of other careers, as well as many real-life scenarios.

Being data savvy, for example, can help someone understand why they’re seeing specific content on their social media feeds. Post and ad recommendations are made using data-driven algorithms, showing people similar content to other posts they’ve seen or liked. This, Lee said, can create a biased perspective where people largely see the content they tend to agree with. But, those who understand this data-driven system will be able to recognize that the content they see is not necessarily representative of society as a whole.

One activity Lee used to help kids understand data in a way that applies to their lives is to have them analyze nutrition labels on different foods to see how companies can manipulate the data to change the perception of their product. For example, a serving may be listed as being much smaller or much larger than the serving that a person would typically eat in order to give the impression that the food contains less sugar or more protein than it is. actually has.

“We are all involved in purchasing supplies for our families all the time and one of the things that often concerns us is our health and whether what we are eating is actually nutritious,” Lee said. “To be able to be prudent consumers is to master the data.”

Real-world examples like these are a quick way for educators to bring data and statistics to the classroom, even if they’re not teaching math, Lee said.

Bringing data visualization from a story to a math, science, or even English or social studies class can help students think about statistics. Asking students why they think a reporter created a data visualization, why they collected the data, and whether they think the story would have been different if the data had been collected from a different group can help students. students not only understand how to interpret the data, but also how it can be biased.

“I was a classroom teacher and still go today, and when students are doing data surveys, that room is lit up. They’re excited about it and it’s a way to make sense of student learning, ”Lee said. “In these lessons, students don’t ask ‘Where am I going to use this someday?’ or “Why am I learning this?” Because they see it. They live it while they do it.

While incorporating data science into lessons has tangible benefits for all students, Lee said many educators face various challenges in bringing data and statistics to the classroom.

For example, Lee said statistics and probabilities are often a relatively small part of the curriculum and end-of-year testing across the country. So when teachers are strapped for time and are forced to make decisions about what to focus on in an often busy curriculum, they can abandon concepts like statistics that students are unlikely to be tested on.

The lack of meaningful statistical content on most assessments, Lee said, creates a systemic problem where the subject continues to be undervalued in the curriculum.

“Many advocates like me believe that data and statistics should have a much bigger place in the education of all of our students,” she said. “Maybe we need to downplay some of the concepts that have existed historically that take students to the top of calculus. It shouldn’t be the top class for all students, but our program is designed to guide our students through to that class. ”

The lack of focus on data and statistics in the classroom also means that many current K-12 educators have not had good subject-related learning opportunities in their own educational careers. . This, Lee said, means that many teachers often feel less comfortable teaching these lessons and may not actively make the effort to present them in the classroom.

To address this problem, Lee has created a variety of online professional learning opportunities offered by the Friday Institute that teachers can engage with on a flexible schedule, from a few minutes to a few hours at a time.

These professional learning opportunities give educators the opportunity to reflect on which aspects of the material they are comfortable with and areas where they need to be improved, while engaging with like-minded educators from around the world. whole.

“By doing professional development online, we can really offer different paths for teachers and have more flexible learning opportunities, so that not everyone is sitting in the same room, getting the same thing at the same time. Said Lee. “They are able to engage in an online community [with educators who] may be five or six states, they may even be an entire country, but they are all there to learn together and think about how to improve their practice in the classroom.

Lee’s research is based on students learning and understanding statistics. By going into classrooms to try out different learning opportunities and observe what students struggle and achieve with, she and her research team are able to make better decisions about what teachers are learning and how they can create. better learning opportunities for educators.

Its most recent grant from the National Science Foundation is developing a personalized learning platform for teachers, while using data recommendations to learn more about their needs and provide recommendations for different learning modules.

“My research team has tried a lot to think about how to make these more personalized pathways accessible to teachers so that they can be more connected to their personal goals and learning and meet their needs,” said Lee.

In addition to preparing educators to teach statistics better, Lee noted that it’s also important that students have the right tools to understand concepts.

Many people think of data as presented in rows and columns, but data can take the form of text, images, and videos. Despite this, most students still learn to use tools such as graphing calculators. As more schools embrace an individual model, with Chromebooks for every student, Lee recommends that teachers who want to integrate data lessons into their classrooms look to online resources that offer a more experience. authentic and closer to how students will live. given in college or in a future career.

“The graphing calculator has long been a staple in high school math classrooms, including advanced placement statistics, but, especially with data and statistics, a graphing calculator is not the tool used. by the experts. It is far from being the tool used by experts and yet it is still provided to our students at school, ”she said. “We need to change the system that only provides students with tools that are not enough for them to acquire the technological prowess they need to model their world with math and really study data and statistics.”

About Mark A. Tomlin

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