Introducing data science concepts and skills to primary school learners
Every day, most of us both consume and create data. For example, we interpret data from weather forecasts to predict our chances of a good weather for a special occasion, and we create data as our carbon footprint leaves a trail of energy consumption information behind us. Data is important in our lives, and countries around the world are expanding their school curricula to teach the knowledge and skills required to work with data, including at primary (K–5) level.
In our most recent research seminar, attendees heard about a research-based initiative called Data Education in Schools. The speakers, Kate Farrell and Professor Judy Robertson from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, shared how this project aims to empower learners to develop data literacy skills and succeed in a data-driven world.
“Data literacy is the ability to ask questions, collect, analyse, interpret and communicate stories about data.”– Kate Farrell & Prof. Judy Robertson
Being a data citizen
Scotland’s national curriculum does not explicitly mention data literacy, but the topic is embedded in many subjects such as Maths, English, Technologies, and Social Studies. Teachers in Scotland, particularly in primary schools, have the flexibility to deliver learning in an interdisciplinary way through project-based learning. Therefore, the team behind Data Education in Schools developed a set of cross-curricular data literacy projects. Educators and education policy makers in other countries who are looking to integrate computing topics with other subjects may also be interested in this approach.
The Data Education in Schools projects are aimed not just at giving learners skills they may need for future jobs, but also at equipping them as data citizens in today’s world. A data citizen can think critically, interpret data, and share insights with others to effect change.
Kate and Judy shared an example of data citizenship from a project they had worked on with a primary school. The learners gathered data about how much plastic waste was being generated in their canteen. They created a data visualisation in the form of a giant graph of types of rubbish on the canteen floor and presented this to their local council.
As a result, the council made changes that reduced the amount of plastic used in the canteen. This shows how data citizens are able to communicate insights from data to influence decisions.
A cycle for data literacy projects
Across its projects, the Data Education in Schools initiative uses a problem-solving cycle called the PPDAC cycle. This cycle is a useful tool for creating educational resources and for teaching, as you can use it to structure resources, and to concentrate on areas to develop learner skills.
The five stages of the cycle are:
- Problem: Identifying the problem or question to be answered
- Plan: Deciding what data to collect or use to answer the question
- Data: Collecting the data and storing it securely
- Analysis: Preparing, modelling, and visualising the data, e.g. in a graph or pictogram
- Conclusion: Reviewing what has been learned about the problem and communicating this with others
Smaller data literacy projects may focus on one or two stages within the cycle so learners can develop specific skills or build on previous learning. A large project usually includes all five stages, and sometimes involves moving backwards — for example, to refine the problem — as well as forwards.
Data literacy for primary school learners
At primary school, the aim of data literacy projects is to give learners an intuitive grasp of what data looks like and how to make sense of graphs and tables. Our speakers gave some great examples of playful approaches to data. This can be helpful because younger learners may benefit from working with tangible objects, e.g. LEGO bricks, which can be sorted by their characteristics. Kate and Judy told us about one learner who collected data about their clothes and drew the results in the form of clothes on a washing line — a great example of how tangible objects also inspire young people’s creativity.
As learners get older, they can begin to work with digital data, including data they collect themselves using physical computing devices such as micro:bit microcontrollers or Raspberry Pi computers.
You can access the seminar slides here.
Free resources for primary (and secondary) schools
For many attendees, one of the highlights of the seminar was seeing the range of high-quality teaching resources for learners aged 3–18 that are part of the Data Education in Schools project. These include:
- Data 101 videos: A set of 11 videos to help primary and secondary teachers understand data literacy better.
- Data literacy live lessons: Data-related activities presented through live video.
- Lesson resources: Lots of projects to develop learners’ data literacy skills. These are mapped to the Scottish primary and secondary curriculum, but can be adapted for use in other countries too.
More resources are due to be published later in 2023, including a set of prompt cards to guide learners through the PPDAC cycle, a handbook for teachers to support the teaching of data literacy, and a set of virtual data-themed escape rooms.
You may also be interested in the units of work on data literacy skills that are part of The Computing Curriculum, our complete set of classroom resources to teach computing to 5- to 16-year-olds.
Join our next seminar on primary computing education
At our next seminar we welcome Aim Unahalekhaka from Tufts University, USA, who will share research about a rubric to evaluate young learners’ ScratchJr projects. If you have a tablet with ScratchJr installed, make sure to have it available to try out some activities. The seminar will take place online on Tuesday 6 June at 17.00 UK time, sign up now to not miss out.
To find out more about connecting research to practice for primary computing education, you can see a list of our upcoming monthly seminars on primary (K–5) teaching and learning and watch the recordings of previous seminars in this series.
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