Busting Myths: "My kids are too young too young for data."

By Team GameFlo

Data is all around us, from the output of your Apple Watch to interactive maps that track voters to the latest visualization of the New York Times front page. With the rise of mobile devices and wearable technology, data is more available than ever before and the amount being generated is vast.

“90 percent of the world’s data has been created in the last two years.” - IBM

We owe it to our children to prepare them for a world driven by data that they will encounter. Basic data fluency is a requirement not just for most good jobs, but also for navigating life more generally, whether it is in terms of financial literacy, making good choices about our own health, or knowing who and what to believe.

After the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in October 1957, math education became a matter of national security. The math curriculum then was overhauled with the goals to increase the number of engineers and scientists, and to develop a workforce that could do the complex calculations required to support the military and space efforts. That was done long before the age of modern computers, but today’s schools still have lots of antiquated methods that students will never use again in their lives. What kids can be doing that computers cannot be doing is creative, flexible thinking.

What kids can be doing that computers cannot be doing is creative, flexible thinking.

Any boring, most procedural maths can be transformed into creative and visual. And when math is creative and visual, people better see connections between events and thinking diversity is valued.

The current math curriculum isn’t preparing students well for either the workforce or the classes they will take in college. It isn’t even helping them do well on the new SAT!

The current math curriculum isn’t helping kids do well on the new SAT.

The new SAT emphasizes data and is on a mission to make data fluency an integral component of high-school math. Twenty percent of the SAT math questions test data fluency; and, amazingly, 10 percent of the questions on what used to be the verbal section are data questions also. A decade ago, those numbers would have been close to zero. Students have always cared deeply about their SAT scores.

So, should we start introducing kids to data early? The answer is definitely yes as data is now a part of everyday life. It has almost become a responsibility of a person to have some level of data literacy - a basic comfort with data; an understanding of the difference between correlation and causality; the ability to evaluate claims that others make with data; maybe even make some sense out of a pile of data.

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It is a responsibility of a person to have some level of data literacy

Yet, even high-school students are barely exposed to data. Only 10 percent of high school students take statistics classes — and even those are primarily theoretical rather than requiring students to get their hands dirty with data. Current practices around teaching data in schools still focus on using small datasets and chart-based visualizations. This is far away from the types of data and visualizations that are increasingly encountered in daily life. The years we now devote to topics like geometry and trigonometry would be better spent focusing on achieving data fluency. Interestingly, some researchers argue that young learners have the ability to work with complex data sets if the tasks are grounded in real-life context.

Numbers are manipulated all of the time

Next, in what some are calling a ‘post-truth world,’ current students believe that if a number is connected to information, it has to be a fact. But numbers are manipulated all of the time. Yet, we want students to have a tool kit that they can use to question the data that is out there. Through data literacy programs, we can ensure that students develop the skills to interrogate, validate, and interpret data they see around.

Fictional learning environments are real

Lastly, the learning environment itself changes as well. Imagine classrooms equipped with cameras that constantly capture each child’s every facial expression, fidget, and social interaction, every day, all year long. Infrared cameras on the ceilings document the objects that every student touches throughout the day, and microphones record every word that each person utters. Picture now the children themselves wearing smart devices that track everything from their heart rates to their time between meals, and using learning software that track their every click and keystroke. Sounds unreal? It is the reality already for which we’re still unprepared.

So, as data has exploded and for the next couple of decades, it is going to dominate business all over the globe. As parents we need to start talking to our kids about data and the career opportunities it holds. Kids studying math and statistics are now the cool kids on campus. Recognizing the immense scope of this industry and simply because data is impacting our lives in so many ways, we see schools and universities introducing the subject to its students and making it part of main stream education. So all of us really, need to understand what data is and how it is changing our lives.