Saturday, March 25, 2017

A tutorial at SIGCSE 2017, Seattle

Aspiring Minds was at SIGCSE 2017 in Seattle in the first week of March. We were presenting our technical paper on devising a pedagogy for teaching data science to kids (it's out on ACM's digital library).

We talked about our design choices which led to forming this framework to teach kids data science. We also shared how it is equally important to have student-friendly tools which can help express ideas related to data science. We have begun our own efforts in this direction.

Here are slides from the talk: [download slides]

The talk was well received. In particular,

  • we realized that a good deal of educators across the US are interested in devising curricula to teach data science to kids. Post the talk, there were at least 6-7 who walked up to us and had interesting observations to share.
  • tech companies like Google are interested in providing grants to help define curricula in this area
  • building tools to help intuitively teach data science concepts is still an unexplored area. What's the Scratch equivalent for data science out there?
SIGCSE also hosts a kids camp annually. Conference attendees get the option to drop off their kids at a day-long camp which contains a variety of short, interesting programs. We felt this would be an appropriate gathering to run a small tutorial on data science! Due to time constraints, we were given a slot for an hour to interact with them. And we made the best of it :-)

What was slightly different about this tutorial though was kids here were in the age group of 8-10 years, while the mean age in our previous tutorials was around 12 years. Challenging as it was, we did come up with a short story-tutorial to engage and teach them.

We had a cohort of 8 students - 3 girls and 5 boys. The core idea was to provide an intuition for likelihood. We did this by providing an imaginary condition to the kids where a mysterious disease had begun spreading in their neighborhood. They were to figure out what the likely cause was by analyzing patient information. In doing so, we also introduced the concept of histograms and conveyed how visualizing information helped in identifying patterns.

The cohort was quite receptive to the entire exercise. They were constantly chipping in observations and came up with smart suggestions when asked. Towards the end of the hour, they did, however, seem to get restless and were gunning for their next exercise - which was to try out Scratch on tablets.

Here are slides from this mini-tutorial.

This tutorial validated what we have observed across our other tutorials - it is indeed possible to get a cohort of 8-10 year olds appreciate a data-driven approach to problem solving/fact-finding!
Thanks to Charles, Dale-Marie and Valerie and other organizers at SIGCSE for making this happen! Thanks to the student volunteers too who helped out with the tutorial and in providing critical feedback on the tutorial.

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