Relevant Data.

“The great difficulty in education is to get experience out of ideas.” George Santayana
I’ve read it now repeatedly for different classes. I’ve heard it from different professors and teacher instructors, here at Nazareth and at other universities. I’ve talked with current and former teachers and the same message is delivered: In order to have students who want to learn,  instruction must be relevant. This week’s discussion of different sources for statistical data (yawn) and culturally relevant teaching practices (in another class) surprisingly came together for me when we looked at the U.S. Census Bureau’s website. And it made sense, common sense. The idea that we can use data that is relevant to the students’ lives, that fits and informs their socio-economic status and/or cultural background, instead of information that has little or no personal meaning, is a powerful one. Students are expected to learn common core standards, many of which I’m sure they don’t see the need for. I can imagine how students, who have little or no exposure to statistical data (such as can be found on the Census Bureau website) AND who cannot link that data to their lives, much too often struggle with learning the skills and abilities necessary to use this type of data.  I can also imagine how using data that is relevant to students’ interests, cultures, and lives could make for a powerful and real experience and one that could bridge different fields of study. An examination of a census map showing the distribution of poverty and race (or some other parameters) in their city or geographic region(s) could spark and inform discussion(s) about these issues, as well as deeper ones. Math skills used to analyse the data could be incorporated into a broader search for meaning that the students would be able to discover for themselves. I just honestly never thought I’d be looking over the Census Bureau’s website for ideas for my classroom!.


5 thoughts on “Relevant Data.

  1. Statistical data has always been one of the most boring topics in school. It seems that when I was in school no one thought to make it relevant to our lives. We did not care how many buttons each kid had and we really did not see why information like that needed to be graphed. Data does not have to be boring and irrelevant! Using the Census Bureau’s data is a great why to approach the subject of data and I agree with you, it just makes sense. I would have never thought to have used this information that is so readily available. But last class it seemed to click, think of the core areas you could link together if you used real data that was relevant to the time and students lives. Math lessons would soon pull in social studies, language arts and science standards and students would (more than likely) be engaged. Just look back to all of us last class. When we were going through the list of websites we were all engaged by looking at data, who knew that it could be so eye catching!

  2. I really liked the idea of using real statistics also. When I was in school, I remember the way we looked at data was taking a survey of the other kids in the room. For example, I remember asking all of my classmates what their bedtime was and making a graph from the results. I also remember not really getting the point of what we were doing because it is kind of pointless to make a graph using twenty variables. If I had been allowed access to data like the US Census Bureau maps, I probably would have understood what graphs are for and why we use them. Plus, it would have been more interesting than asking my classmates what time they went to bed at night (because really, who cares?)

  3. That’s just it, isn’t it… The real skill (and art) of teaching is to make learning matter. We can’t always pull it off perfectly for everyone, But let’s face it, too often we’ve given up trying. We’ve given some of our own art over to “curriculum” and its many accompanying resources, reproducibles,… In this particular case, we live in a world full of data. If we are expected to have our students demonstrate the ability to accurately represent data graphically, as teachers, we can’t stop asking ourselves (1) why is this important and (2) how can I make this meaningful and relevant to my students. Audience can be very instrumental in making this happen, which we really didn’t talk about last class. When students produce something of consequence AND share it with an authentic audience, watch their interest, motivation, and engagement go up.

    So, if one was doing a data/statistics unit (in any grade), how could all of the “skills” be put to good use? What could they DO with these skills that they could proudly share with a potentially global audience on a blog or wiki? There is so much of interest out there, so many different problems/issues relevant to a wide variety of audiences…

    We all need to stop being teachers and get back to being learners. Bring into your classrooms your own passions, curiosities, new things you’re learning, new tools for learning those new things,… let your students see you as a learner rather than as a teacher. It may seem like semantics, but it’s really not…

    Sorry, I know this isn’t a class about teaching philosophy, curriculum, and such… but these things are inextricably related to the tools that we use and how we choose to use them. I really love how you are all unpacking these things so messily… so wonderfully.

  4. I completely agree, and I think as a math teacher this is even more relevant. During my student teaching I discovered that many of the textbooks available to my students were very outdated. They noted that the names the book used were old fashion, and the data or numbers the book was providing in examples did not make sense with today’s society and world. By simply having outdated data, students are instantly not as interested because the data wasn’t relevant to them or what they see as logical. The perfect example I have of this was when I was planning a lesson on direct variation. The example the book gave for introducing this topic was examining the length of roof trusses, and to me it made sense. However, I then tried to put myself in the mind of my 9th grade algebra students, and I realized most of them probably have no clue what a truss even is. I then redesigned my lesson around the idea of how much a limo would cost depending on how many people are riding in it. Determining the cost of a limo is something that was much more relevant to my student’s live and it got them excited about the problem and asking questions like “is that really how much they cost?!”

    Additionally, until last class I never really thought about having students actually look at the data themselves instead of just providing it for them, but after seeing how engaged we all were in those websites makes me think that is something I am going to definitely try in the future. With website like the Census Bureau, students could even pick a topic they want to pull data from, allowing more flexibility and individuality in the teaching itself.

    • Yes! Having to analyze, organize, and represent data toward some end such as solving a problem, answering a question, forming an opinion, or taking sides on an issue… all make the purpose of data/analysis more relevant. I love the idea of graduation or party budgeting, including limo costs…

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