Critical questions about pre-college data science education at international statistics conference

Fifty statistics educators from ten countries gathered on July 10, 2018, in Kyoto, Japan, at the International Conference On Teaching Statistics (ICOTS) for the inaugural data science education Special Interest Group (SIG) organized by Tim Erickson of EEPS Media and William Finzer of the Concord Consortium. The large group included university professors, software developers, curriculum developers, secondary teachers, and others.

Discussing the connection between statistics and data science education, the SIG helped to further define and shape the data science education landscape, identify gaps between the present state and the desired future, and generate action plans. After brainstorming several areas of interest, they formed small groups around four main discussion topics:

  • What are the critical differences between data science education and statistics education? Do they have to be separate?
  • Why is it important that we include data science in the pre-college curriculum?
  • What is the connection between data science and modeling?
  • Is data science a subject, a set of skills, habits of mind, or all/none of the above?

Tim Erickson, who outlined some “telltale ingredients that make an activity smell like data science” early in 2017, said, “We need to make more room for data investigations using rich, complex data sets, and using technology to explore them.” Indeed, statistics educators seemed willing to delay some elements of traditional statistics, especially if the conceptual underpinnings were covered through a curriculum rich in data science.

William Finzer, who developed the free web-based data exploration tool, Common Online Data Analysis Platform (CODAP), noted, “We could see that if data science turned into a checklist of skills, something important would be lost. On the other hand, if data science were treated as a subject, then it might be relegated to a high school course that just a few students encounter.” The group concluded that when students are immersed in data repeatedly during their school careers, they will develop important data habits of mind.

According to a recent Education Week article, “The ubiquitous use of data in everything from physics and finance to politics and education is helping to build momentum for a new path in high school math—one emphasizing statistics and data literacy over calculus.” Statistics educators like those gathered at ICOTS are key contributors to the conversation about the future of data science education at the pre-college level. We invite you to join the conversation. View our schedule of future meetups and free online data science education webinars.