Working with real-world data could also be a way to draw students who might otherwise be disinterested or daunted by mathematics, participants said.
Studying data science offers kids the chance to see how mathematical ideas “connect to their everyday lives and have consequences,” said Victor Lee, an associate professor of education at the GSE, whose research includes studying ways to engage K-12 students in data analysis.
“Kids can look at their own daily activities using wearable activity trackers, examining what sorts of activities are making them more active or are more physically demanding. They can look at air quality sensors and see the quality of the air in their neighborhood. They can look at food and nutrition to see what sorts of resources are made available to some communities and less so for others.”
Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the California Board of Education and a professor emerita at the GSE, noted at the summit that the current high school math sequence goes back to 1892, when a group of educators known as the Committee of Ten recommended a standardized curriculum for American schools.
“It’s a fairly antiquated approach to teaching,” said Darling-Hammond, who recently appointed Boaler and GSE assistant professor Jennifer Langer-Osuna to a state committee working to revise California’s K-12 mathematics framework.
One complication in changing the K-12 math curriculum is the perception that students who don’t follow the traditional pathway will be at a disadvantage in applying to colleges. In California, high school students need to complete a sequence of courses known as the A-G requirements, which include algebra II and geometry, to be admitted to a University of California or California State University campus after graduation. Colleges across the country similarly limit the high school math courses they recommend for successful applicants.
Boaler and Levitt are working with college administrators to broaden the scope of mathematics their institutions indicate they value. They are also pushing to expand the options available in high school for all students, including those who aspire to attend elite universities.
Preparing students for the data age
Beyond emphasizing the importance of preparing young people for a changing job market, participants at the summit spoke to schools’ duty to equip students for the demands of modern citizenship.
“It’s a bit like before literacy was common across most of the population—we had a small number of people at the top who could control everything else,” said Conrad Wolfram, co-founder of computerbasedmath.org. “We’re in a similar situation now with data literacy.”
As artificial intelligence becomes increasingly omnipresent, the need to understand how to work with data becomes more urgent, Wolfram added. “There’s a question of who’s in charge, the AI or the human,” he said. “We don’t want to compete with the machines we’ve made. We want to go to another level, and that’s got to change in our educational set-up.”
All photos: Sherry Tesler/Light FX Photography
Video: Stanford Video