COLLEGE OF ARTS AND SCIENCES Department of Mathematics and Statistics

Hosting Data Camps to Increase Data Literacy in Young Children

Seven year old George puts his family poster together with his family, friends, and facilitor, Krisie.

Seven year-old George, above, with his family, friends, and camp facilitator Kirsie, at a data camp. George wants to design computer games, and learning about data may help him achieve that goal.

"Sharing data concepts with young children can have a lasting impact that opens them to the future of data science. Engaging them in fun data activities helps them realize the importance and value of data at an early age, which helps develop their data literacy. Without knowing it, they're working with and engaging in data analysis, and this opens the door for new experiences which could possibly change the trajectory of their future learning," says Boeing Distinguished Professor and Professor of Statistics, Nairanjana (Jan) Dasgupta. In 2022, she initiated two Data Literacy Community Camps to introduce data science to young students and their families in underrepresented data science communities. Her goal is to spark interest and engage in hands-on activities to increase data literacy amoung young students.

"As data culture becomes the norm, data needs to be part of basic literacy from an early age. Introducing concepts of data early, and often, enhances data literacy and a student's ability to understand, question, build critical thinking skills, and use common sense. Unlike math or quantitative literacy that rely on arithmetic skills, data literacy is related to visualization, story telling, and number sense."

The recently organized data camps focused on story-telling, visualization, and using the word "data" frequently - without emphasizing math skills. The objective was to engage students in age-appropriate data-immersive activities to start conversations, create awareness, and pique positive interest in data - before students might be affected with negative math bias. "If students have a negative reaction to math in their early grades they frequently won't consider data related fields in the future. These camps provide a means of early intervention. They expose students to data, and data concepts, in a happy, positive, and comfortable atmosphere with activities and discussions that include other family members."

The camps were held in Cashmere and the Tri-Cities. Each camp ran from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., with dinner provided for families on both evenings. The atmosphere was happy and light-hearted, and by having family members join in the activities they also learned how data can be used, or misused.

The Cashmere School District Federal Programs and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of the Tri-Cities, were community partners recruiting students and families for the camps. Cashmere has a large migrant community and its camp was held in an elementary school cafeteria. Richland has a large Latin community and its camp was held at a WSU Tri-Cities campus building, and was funded by Amazon. Facilitating the camps were three graduate students in statistics, three undergraduate students in data analytics, a graduate student in Comparative Languages who was fluent in Spanish, and one high school senior. There were 35 attendees in Cashmere (11 children, 24 adults) and 23 attendees in Richland (13 children, 10 adults).

Camp activities included an icebreaker exercise of guessing the number of M&Ms in a jar. Whoever guessed the closest number won the jar. Another activity was to complete a questionnaire that asked for birth date, a favorite color, animal, time of day, song, season, food number, candy, and ice cream. Participants then pre-filled posters with months and birthdays, and constructed a histogram. Students were asked into which month they thought most birthdays would fall. This was followed by a discussion on the most common birth date and a conjecture of why. Next, students designed a game of putting table tennis balls into jars and they came up with a point system. There were also toy car races where each student picked a car, and parents, students, and facilitators predicted race outcomes. Students were encouraged to reason why one toy car would be faster than another. UNO and dice games were played while facilitators asked strategy questions. Facilitators emphasized to the students that they were making “data-informed” decisions in each of their plays and activities. Another thought-provoking activity involved the sum of two dice being plotted while using stickers, with a discussion on what would be a likely outcome and what would not. The last activity was a “web scraping” from Twitter that was used to create word clouds. Students and parents each typed in their own search words. Students searched for words like “soccer,” “football,” and “Nemo,” while parents searched for words like “jobs,” “salary,” “Cashmere,” and “Tri Cities.” It was eye-opening for families to see how much can be done with data, and data can be used.

During dinner, each facilitator talked with parents and children about their future plans and why it is important to understand data in our current world of automation. After dinner, each family sat together and used the information that had been previously collected to visualize answers, however they wanted. Most students chose to focus on their favorite animals and drew them using their favorite colors. Parents and students joined this activity with energy. One student from each family was then invited to talk about their family’s “data story.” Most of the time, all of the siblings went up together with the student, collectively holding their poster, and often parents joined in on the activity. The parents seemed to have as much fun as the students while also critiquing one another’s art work.

In the end, each family received a goody bag and left the camp happy and smiling. Many asked for another camp in the fall. One student, Alex who is 10, drew the university logo on his poster and said he would like to “come to WSU and study data analytics,” and that he will be in the class of 2032. Another student, Jaime who is 14, said, “I want to go to college, but how do I go?”

Participants in both camps were asked if they would like to attend another data camp and 100 percent responded positively. Students also said they would like to bring more friends and family with them next time. With funding, Professor Dasgupta hopes to hold more data camps in the fall or next summer.

Josh and Divya make posters with their parents and facilitator, Shivani.
Josh and Divya make posters with their parents and facilitator, Shivani.