Category Archives: Data Literacy

NCSS San Diego, Saturday Sessions on Data Literacy


I attended a variety of sessions today at the NCSS Conference. This entry deals with two sessions on using data for teaching and learning in Social Studies. I was going to attend a third one on teaching about water scarcity, but unfortunately that one was canceled.

Using technology to teach geography and econmics:

Session on the use of GeoFRED, a customizable set of economic data provided by the Federal Reserve in St. Louis. This seems to be a very nice information source that is customizable in many different ways. There is also a set of lesson plans on the website itself.


One of the activities the presenters demonstrated was how unemployment rates are calculated, by first eliminating those under sixteen and those who are not currently seeking work, and then calculating unemployment for those who are left.

Federal Reserve System Beige Book: descriptions of economic data by region in text. Can compare this to the maps. Then students can write about this.

You can also look at years over a long period of time, going back to 1976.

I think the GeoFRED tool is a good example of a data visualization tool. It is also useful in that you can customize the maps in many different ways, and look at data from national, state, and county perspectives.

Using data to teach higher order thinking in American History

Basically a discussion about using data to look at American History. The presenter talked about using higher order thinking skills. It’s more about making an effort to come up with an answer and back it up with evidence from data than right or wrong answers. He used economic trends from the 1800s as an example (comparing data from 1815 and 1860).

It’s also about time. It takes time to learn the skills you need to analyze data and make sense of the numbers. The presenter referred to this as “active” history.

It’s also about not just teaching content, but also teaching skills. Too often we assume students have skills that they really don’t have. This is pretty sad, as these are often skills they should have learned already in lower grades.

Image Credit: National Council for the Social Studies:

Net Neutrality Debate Still Far From Over

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As an update on my previous post on the fight over net neutrality, here is an article from MSNBC that discusses how Comcast has been blocking some Internet traffic on its networks. According to the article by Peter Svensson:

Comcast Corp. actively interferes with attempts by some of its high-speed Internet subscribers to share files online, a move that runs counter to the tradition of treating all types of Net traffic equally.

The interference, which The Associated Press confirmed through nationwide tests, is the most drastic example yet of data discrimination by a U.S. Internet service provider. It involves company computers masquerading as those of its users.

If widely applied by other ISPs, the technology Comcast is using would be a crippling blow to the BitTorrent, eDonkey and Gnutella file-sharing networks. While these are mainly known as sources of copyright music, software and movies, BitTorrent in particular is emerging as a legitimate tool for quickly disseminating legal content.

While the article mostly discusses the issue of blocking content in general, especially with regards to file-sharing, an interesting question remains how this type of practice can potentially affect education, both formal and informal.

There is also a lively discussion about the Comcast practice, which can be found here. Most posts seem to oppose Comcast’s practices.

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Handheld Learning 2007, Day 1, Reflections on Pedagogy, John Traxler

Fourth presentation: John Traxler: Society, Technology, Education, and Learning Heading Towards 2012.

Technology predictions should be the easy part of 2012 (linearity, extrapolation?).

Idea of convergence, will it happen, or will we see divergence, e.g. the PSP or iPod? Is it an issue of personal preference? (interesting thought and I think he’s probably got a point. While some technology may be converging , like smart phones, many very popular devices are purposely not).
Technological trends:
• Miniaturization , virtual keyboards, etc.
• Pervasive computing, like the Internet-enabled fridge.
• Wearable computing
So is technology really the issue for education? Or is it economic activity, spiritual use of mobiles, etc. that will have an impact on education? Technology is important and it’s moving, but there are lots of other changes in our society that have a direct instrumental impact on teaching and learning, and the curriculum (my question is: so why isn’t the curriculum changing then??).
Are we creating a different kind of virtual community? A new kind of accessing and generating knowledge, e.g. citizen journalism? If so, what are the implications for education?

Literature on the sociology of mobility. What exactly does this mean? What impact is it having on society, schools, teaching and learning? How is it affecting emotional, f2f relationships, concepts of time and space, mobiles as creating perpetual contact?

Communication-surveillance-education??? Are the three somehow related?? (This is a very interesting question. With all the communication and networking tools we’ve got today, pervasive surveillance is not that far off, in many places it already exists (think traffic and security cameras, of which there are plenty in the Westminster area in London, where this conference is being held). Where does education fit into this picture?)

Changes to knowledge: access to information/data/knowledge …
• is easy and convenient (but structured/chunked and consumed differently)
• anytime, anywere
• just-in-time, just-for-me
 Example: wapedia
Diagram by Tom Brown, University of Pretoria: what’s beyond constructivism? (see this paper, for more info, the diagram is on p. 14). Are we going from knowledge adoption to creation to navigation?? (or connectivism, as some call it). Traxler thinks that this is not happening (yet), because of the still existing contrast between learning in static environments (formal education) v. increasingly mobile society.

Update on Net Neutrality: The Fight Is Far from Over

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As I’ve written about before, the fight about net neutrality is far from over. According to Robert Niles, editor of the Online Journalism Review of the Annenberg School of Communication at USC, “It’s up to Congress now to protect net neutrality.” He states that:

Today, the United States Justice Department came out against “Net Neutrality,” endorsing the concept of allowing telecom companies to decide which websites and online services it will allow its customers to access, and at what speeds. The U.S. Congress must respond swiftly, by enacting legislation to preserve net neutrality and protect the interests of small publishers and private citizens.

Niles’ post is definitely worth a thorough reading, as well as the Justice Department’s press release. I agree with Niles that the Internet has made possible

the explosion in people-powered media over the past decade, which was made possible by the unprecedented ability of individuals, anywhere, to publish to a global platform, on an equal footing with corporate media.

It’s funny that this story should rear its head again, considering some of the things I’ve been working on lately.  First off, I spent three days at Purdue at the end of July, at the Ackerman Colloquium themed “Educating for Citizenship in Digital and Synthetic Worlds: Privacy, Protection, and Participation.” It’s funny though that we didn’t talk much about issues such as net neutrality though. A large part of the conversation seemed to revolve around the use of games for teaching social studies, which is something I’m not entirely convinced of (yet).

Secondly, I’ve spent the last three weeks or so working on an NSF-funded project called Thinking With Data, a project designed to teach middle school kids data literacy across the curriculum (see NSF, this newspaper article  and this press release for more info). It’s an important project because, to quote  Andee Rubin from TERC:

We use data every day—to choose medications or health practices, to decide on a place to live, or to make judgments about education policy and practice. The newspapers and TV news are full of data about nutrition, side effects of popular drugs, and polls for current elections. Surely there is valuable information here, but how do you judge the reliability of what you read, see, or hear?  This is no trivial skill—and we are not preparing students to make these critical and subtle distinctions.

What I’ve learned from our project so far is that, on average, kids’ data literacy skills are not very strong, and having an Internet that is not “neutral” will make matters only worse when it comes to teach youngsters how to judge data for what it’s really worth.

Feels good to be back. I can’t believe I haven’t blogged in almost two months. I have been lurking off and on though, and while I did take some time off, I worked most of the summer. Not sure yet how I’m going to get caught up with all of my feeds. I’m planning to focus my writing in the coming year on a couple of topics that have been of great interest to me: learning while mobile/mobile learning, and citizenship education and digital tools.

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