Data, data everywhere

The middle school was doing some shuffling around of classes, including my 8th grade class. At the end of the year last year, we had mostly decided that my tech class should prepare students for their science classes. I was perfectly okay with this since I’d struggled so much in hitting the right note with my 8th graders. I hadn’t figured out quite what to do by the end of the summer. I’d focused on my upper school classes, which meet more often and have more material to cover. After another shuffle, it was decided that I didn’t need to focus on prepping students for 9th grade science, so i was free to cover what i wanted. I liked the idea, though, of a math/science focus, but I also wanted to cover some computing things. I was struggling with what to do last week. I’d search for some things online and most of what came use was keyboarding and word processing. Bleh.*

A shout out to Twitter gave me a few suggestions, but nothing very concrete. Finally, in the shower one day, I came up with the whole thing. I’m doing data visualization in my CS class, so I decided it might be fun to do the same in 8th grade. I have only 10 weeks with each group of 8th graders, and I only see them once a week. Basically I’ve broken the time down into 3 chunks. The students will work in pairs/groups, which I find works especially well for this age group. Here’s the breakdown:

  • First third: What is data? Presenting data in infographics vs. pie/bar charts. Create your own infographic.
  • Second third: Data tells a story. What story does your data tell? Create a newscast based on your data.
  • Final third: Manipulating data. Using graphics and other methods to distort data. How to recognize poorly presented data. Correcting bad representations.

I’m actually quite excited about this. We’ll be using spreadsheets and image editing software. We’ll get to use our new multimedia project room with its video camera and green screen. All the while, the students will be learning something valuable. This is why I love my job!

9 Replies to “Data, data everywhere”

  1. Laura, this sounds fabulous! I mean, I can’t judge from the CS angle, but if your students can learn to think critically about data and its representation at such a young age, that is HUGE!

  2. This is a great idea on so many levels! Learning to make good pictures of data is a wonderful way to learn how to read graphics, a skill I’m still working on with the college students.

    Do you have Edward Tufte’s gorgeous book?

  3. I love it too. I think data visualization is a cross-subject topic that’s becoming more and more important as everyone has more and more access to data (and, it creeps into everyday usage in the press). Knowing how to look and create will be a great boon for the kids. Looking forward to seeing the specifics.

  4. PS: And, I have a special fondness for ideas that come to one in the shower/while falling asleep/in your dreams since it confirms my belief in thinking without constraints.

    (I once really solved a data analysis issue in my dreams. Usually those dream solutions are just crazy, but this particular one wasn’t).

  5. I love your enthusiasm, Laura. I believe that is going to translate out to many of your students as well. For many, it is going to change the perspective of what could be “just another class,” into a real adventure in learning.

    Way to be an “Inspire-er” to both your students and your readers.



  6. Sounds great, Laura!

    If you’re looking for book recs, you might take a look at Dan Roam’s Blah Blah Blah — not an especially enticing title, but the book is about how different kinds of visualization can tell different sorts of stories. His grammar of visualization strats might be helpful…


  7. I would love it if my students had better spreadsheet skills. When I started teaching they had great skills on average but these days most of them have never opened Excel. (Instead they’re very good with cell-phone technology.) It makes teaching Stata more difficult!

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