Why a knowledge of how to analyse data is essential in the curriculum

We spend so much time in the mathematics curriculum doing calculations. Now this has been criticised by greater experts in the subject than myself. I would bring to your attention the excellent TED Talk by  Conrad Wolfram “Teaching Kids Real Math With Computers”.

There is another TED Talk that I think puts it all in a nutshell. It is by Arthur Benjamin and is called “Teach Statistics Before Algebra”. It lasts three minutes and makes a convincing case that the Mathematics Curriculum is based upon a progression of mathematical subjects that goes from arithmetic to algebra and ends at the top with calculus.

Now I am not deriding the validity or indeed the sheer genius of calculus and the impact that Newton (or was it Leibniz?) gave the world in developing a way of calculating changes in movement that has led to so many scientific developments. I believe that it is a worthwhile field of study for those people who will be going on to scientific and technological careers.

My point is to agree with Arthur Benjamin that we now live in a world where there is a mass of available data. We are bombarded with statistics all the time. I have become fascinated with the number of viewings of my posts and was delighted to receive my end-of-year report from WordPress on just how many people read my posts in the last calendar year. More importantly the ability to read data and use data has become an essential part of everybody’s lives.

I have recently done an online course on global problems which looked at the prospects for our planet of population  growth and change, the implications of growing urbanisation, the impact of population on the availability of food and the data that is used in the current debate on climate change.

In the recent U.S. Presidential election a man called Nate Silver who writes the FiveThirtyEight Blog on The New York Times, used data to correctly forecast the result of each of the 50 states in the U.S.A.! This morning, I watched an excellent lecture on YouTube by Professor Joel Cohen called “An Introduction To Demography” it shows just how much  data is key to the decisions that we will make that will effect the way the we live (or die) in the future.

This all seems to me to point to the fact that we must teach data collection, presentation and most importantly interpretation to children as a key part of their mathematical education. Data is about real world problems and that is the things that we should be presenting to our children if they are to make sense of their ever changing digital world.

 

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