Learning Resources

New York City Public Schools Dive into Data with Lotto Numbers

High school students in New York City Public Schools will begin learning data literacy this month through the new City Digits project, which aims to promote civic engagement among youth while teaching data collection and analysis skills. The first module of the project, called Local Lotto, was released to classrooms in November 2014.

Sarah Williams, assistant professor in MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning and director of the Civic Data Design Lab in the MIT School of Architecture and Planning, is a co-investigator on a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation "to think about how to create a mapping tool that could teach youth about a civic topic while supporting their mathematics education," according to a news release from MIT. The City Digits project is the result of that grant.

"Every day we read that big data is going to change the world," said Williams in a prepared statement. "But if we can't read or understand that data, it's going to be hard to make effective decisions. I feel it's important to promote data literacy among youth and the general population so they can analyze information with a critical eye, understand what statistics mean and learn more about the community in which they live."

The Local Lotto module has already been pilot tested in New York City Public Schools. In this module, students interview buyers and sellers of lottery tickets to collect "both quantitative and qualitative data about volume of sales at neighborhood stores, ticket purchase habits and community opinions about the lottery," according to MIT. Students use geo-spatial technologies on their tablets to collect and analyze the data, and then they use the resulting information to present an argument through multimedia. Presentations by students who participated in the pilot projects illustrated the low odds of winning a million-dollar prize and that people in lower-income neighborhoods spends more on lottery tickets.

"By going through the process of gathering and analyzing data, the students learned more about how the lottery operates, and they learned how to use data as a civic engagement tool," said Williams in a prepared statement. "They now have experience engaging in a more informed public debate on civic topics."

The City Digits project is directed by Laurie Rubel of CUNY's Brooklyn Collge with collaboration from MIT's Civic Data Design Lab andNew York City Public Schools.

Further information about the project can be found on the City Digits site.

Correction: This article has been modified since its original publication to correct a factual error. We erroneously reported MIT received the NSF grant and implied that Sarah Williams was its principal investigator. The grant was awarded to the City University of New York and Laurie Rubel is its principal investigator. We also included the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) as a collaborator. CUP is no longer involved in the project after the end of a one year subcontract. [Last updated Dec. 11, 2014 at 2:33 p.m.] --Joshua Bolkan

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at leilameyer@gmail.com.

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