It is an interesting experience to look for technologies that would help students become familiar with Probability and Data. As I mentioned in an earlier post, recording measurements was an early reason for the development of writing and math. These measurements were data points that helped rulers run their kingdoms. So over the past couple thousand years, all kinds of technologies have been developed to look at and consider data. Any one of those would be a good starting point for teaching about it.
In the past I have used Microsoft Excel to help teach students about advanced data manipulation. We will cover data basics in class, with small sets of numbers, then we bring in Excel to see how larger sets of data can make things more interesting. I know when I show students how to use Excel to look at data, that I am teaching them two things. How to manage larger sets of data than are convenient in the calculator or by hand, and how to use spreadsheets. Spreadsheets, and Excel in particular, are widely used across the business world to look at and manipulate data.
Excel in an excellent tool for looking at data. You can use it for various formulas, and data manipulations, as wells as displays of data. It is relatively user friendly, when you are just getting started, but it also capable of some advanced algorithms and programmed pieces. It can take years to master all the possibilities in Excel. Unfortunately, Microsoft keeps Excel, like the rest of their Office Suite, locked behind a paywall, so students may not have access to it. Excel has been around for over 35 years now, but it is not the only tool in the box. Google Sheets and other spreadsheet programs are increasingly competitive. Google Sheets is usually easier for educators to use, as it is free, and is also included in the Google Education suite. In an era of big data, technologies that can handle, and make it easier to look at data are everywhere. They are so widespread, that there are movements to standardize data sets and formats, so that it is easier to share and transfer data, especially in education.
Not only are technologies widely available to look at and study data, but interesting data sets are more available for use than ever before. In fact, there is so much out there, that even a list of options can be quite extensive! I may spend as much time looking through sites like Data Nuggets, Statista, and FiveThirtyEight as I do planning my lessons.
Finding technology to teach my students about data is not difficult. Making sure the students are learning to look at the data in a critical and meaningful way is the hard part. This is why technology alone is not enough to make teaching and learning easier. It needs to be aligned properly with a lesson that will scaffold students’ steps as they learn to think about data. While numbers can be fun, there is meaning to data, because those numbers come from our world. Showing students how to see the world the numbers represent is the real challenge.