Teacher Jenny Kao is in constant motion in her Newport Harbor High School classroom. Zipping from one student to the next, she peers at laptop screens and calculators while offering advice and validating answers. The students in her data science class work in pairs to gather and record data specific to their chosen projects.
Developed by faculty and undergraduates at Stanford University, the data science curriculum is designed to motivate students to be actively engaged with math. During the eight-unit course, students develop an understanding of data analysis, sampling, correlation and causation, bias and uncertainty, modeling with data, making and evaluating data-based arguments, and the importance of data in society.
Students are introduced to the concept of data science through their own experiences, reflecting on their own media use, exploring the data of others’ and analyzing related business data. Students then explore different ways to model data. They also learn about bivariate data, the roles played by variation and chance, how data is collected from simulations, ways data can answer probabilities, and how to use data to make decisions.
Working collaboratively, students analyze data connected to real-world scenarios to predict future outcomes. “Data analytics can be used to predict things like changes in the bird population. Using statistics, our students can understand why things are happening and determine what may happen next,” said Administrative Director of Secondary Education Dr. Mike Sciacca.
In their pursuit of such predictions, students build not only their mathematics skills, but their language arts and computer science skills as well. As part of the curriculum, students use Common Online Data Analysis Platform (CODAP), a free online tool that students employ for analyzing and visualizing data; Google Sheets; Google Data Commons, another free online tool that helps students gather and sort data; Tableau, which enables students to create visual representations of their data; and Google Colaboratory, through which students learn to use Python computer coding.
“Our students are learning skills that are absolutely transferable to real life. Virtually every industry uses data science, from the stock market and financial institutions to education, the government and more,” Sciacca said.
Though there is a strong teamwork element, students must also meet individual benchmarks and milestones. According to Newport Harbor High School Assistant Principal Dr. Jennifer Fox, “This has been a valuable learning opportunity for students to prepare for future team and collaborative work.”
After completing the course, students will have a portfolio of data science work that showcases their abilities. “The curriculum is practical and hands-on, showing students the power of making informed decisions, which is important to everyday life. Our students can take what they learned in the data science class on any career path they choose,” Sciacca said.
Data science classes are now offered at all Newport-Mesa Unified School District comprehensive high schools.