According to Forbes, there are 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created each day, and that number is only increasing as more and more people go online. In an age where data is the new currency, kids need to learn early on how visualizing and interpreting this content can be leveraged for personal advantage, social impact, and global citizenship. The key to that education? Teaching data literacy in schools.
Data literacy refers to how we understand, generate, and use data. The degree to which we are data literate depends on how well we are able to think critically about and evaluate data.
As part of this education, STEM programs are becoming increasingly popular among parents and children. Whether incorporated as part of a school’s curriculum or as an after school endeavor, the basic principles of science, technology, engineering and math encourage early engagement with data literacy.
Aimee Savard is the owner of MakerKids in Central Toronto, a tech school for kids that integrates data literacy into its extracurricular programs. “Data literacy promotes multi-dimensional thinking,” Savard tells Parentology. “Understanding how to read the data, and the cause and effect of variable data, drives STEM concepts home and helps students understand how the world around them works.”
Savard uses coding, robotics, programming, and web design as examples of applied literacy in her program. “Understanding ‘if’ statements and using logic to determine what the proper inputs are to get the desired output, all involve data literacy,” she emphasizes.
When it comes to critical thinking and the ability to weed out valuable data, it becomes more important than ever for children to evaluate and ask the right questions. Numbers and information can be manipulated, and Savard highlights the top questions students should ask when they encounter data in their daily lives.
Where is data coming from?
Is the source credible? It’s critically important to help students differentiate between “fake news” or clickbait, and scientific data backed by research. This will help them learn how to make decisions based on facts.
What data is worth measuring and observing on a regular basis?
For example, the number of streaks on Snapchat could be considered a data point — but is this worth looking at or measuring?
How do I collect and analyze the data I want?
For some types of data, there may not be an obvious way to collect and measure it. This can open up an exciting opportunity for students to create projects that collect and analyze data. Savard uses her Robotics program at MakerKids as an example.
“Kids might create a motion-sensor activated cat alarm that counts the number of times their cat, or sibling, passes their bedroom door” she explains. “Or a nightlight that uses a light sensor to measure the amount of light in the room and turn on an LED light when it gets dark. In our Coding programs, kids can code video games that collect data such as number of goals scored, and then create something that says ‘You won!’”
Savard emphasizes that these examples create exciting opportunities for kids to see the world around them in a new way and to think about how they can impact it. Data literacy builds esteem and confidence when kids feel empowered to impact their world.
“Once they have that knowledge, they can make decisions and create their own results. It’s a positive feedback cycle that allows them to grow and learn,” says Savard.
Or, as Steve Jobs once said: “Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”