Math standards cover a wide array of topics, from operations to measurement to geometry. While math is a beautiful and timeless subject, there has been a lot of attention given to what standards we think students should be taught. Given our increasingly fast-paced, data driven world, perhaps no standard is more important than “develop and evaluate inferences and predictions that are based on data” (NCTM, 2000).
Now that the majority of the world has access to the internet in the palm of their hand, data is available to everyone with just a few clicks. More people are using the internet as their main source of information than ever before. Unlike historical forms of data sharing, like news articles or reports, internet sources may not have fact-checking procedures. As a teacher, part of my responsibility is to show students how to find credible sources, how to use this data for research. As a math teacher, I need to teach students to look critically at any data they come across and consider its validity.
My knowledge of curriculum (KC)(Hill & Ball, 2009) for data at the high school level is excellent. I know in Algebra 1 we show students how to read and make graphs from pie charts to box plots. Students are also shown to read graphs carefully so as not to be mislead by inappropriate scales or labeling. In Algebra 2 students extend some of their understanding into probability, from which they can also make charts and graphs. If students choose to take Probability and Statistics, they can extend these ideas much further, and this is where they can really dig into the validity of data. I can show students how to evaluate the collection of the data, and whether measures of central tendency would even be valid, based on that collection. I have students create a bias project, where they collect data in a biased vs unbiased way so they can see the altering of results themselves. This is a great exercise, as it makes students start to wonder about other reports and surveys they may have seen. However, I also know that very few students take the Probability and Statistics course at my high school. It is a senior year math elective, and only effects a small proportion of the school’s population. My knowledge of content and teaching (KCT) (Hill & Ball, 2009) at my school enables me to make better choices for the course I teach most often, Algebra 1. If I really want to make sure students are taught how to “develop and evaluate inferences and predictions that are based on data”, then I need to make sure more of that content is offered in Algebra 1 and 2.
Unfortunately, my data unit is the first to go when I have to make choices that end up cutting curriculum. Moving forward, I may need to rethink this prioritization. Students are inundated with data all around them, in social media, in their classes, at home. Being able to read and evaluate this data is of increasing importance. If I am really hoping to best prepare them for using math in the real world, then I need to reconsider the importance of teaching them about data, and how to think about it.
Hill, H., & Ball, D. L. (2009). The curious – and crucial – case of Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching. Phi Delta Kappan, 91(2), 68–71.
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). (2000). Principles and standards for school mathematics. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.