My Life By the Numbers

FitBit data, commute miles, # of SourPatch Kids consumed watching Netflix. How do #s tell the story of our lives?

Photo of Sandee Bisson
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Combine narrative writing, statistics, and observation/data keeping to tell the story of the students' lives. I am thinking David Copperfield (Dickens, not magician) meets Freakonomics, with a great deal of whimsy. Could also be a graphic novel.


Overview: (What’s this idea about? Try framing your overview using the questions below)

What’s the need we are trying to solve for?

Helping students to see the many ways that numbers and data are present and working in their daily lives.


What is the problem this idea solves?

Students who are not “into” math often don’t feel it is relevant to their lives.


What are the challenges with existing solutions?

Often attempts to make math “real” are still to theoretical and impersonal. We need to find a way to help students see how it connects specifically and personally.



Potential For Impact: (Why is this an idea that creates an authentic and active STEM experience?)

It provides students with a rich array of data that has personal meaning. It is also easily scalable for different mathematical abilities. Students who need more scaffolding can get it and students who need more challenge and autonomy can go more indepth.

Value Prop/Pitch: (How would you pitch this to other teachers in your school? Your principal? Etc)

My school values  student centered cross-curricular exploration. I feel confident I could easily get one or more of the math teachers on board.


How’d I get this idea off the ground? What are the next steps?

I guess the next step is have a chat with math team.


Materials to get this idea off the ground: I think the single biggest obstacle is that not all students have a FitBit type device. It would be great if I could find a resource to get students the devices to wear for the duration of the project,  All middle schoolers at my school have computers so that part of things is easy.


App Idea:

For a tech tie-in, I am pondering the idea of creating an avatar type thing that they can customize and that responds to their data. If they input data that relates to the health the avatar would get stronger/weaker as applicable, something in social media could make their heart bigger or smaller, something related to knowledge/learning could shrink/grow their brain. I don’t have the first idea how this would work, but that sort of visualization could be powerful.


This idea is still very much in development. Anyone who would like to join and help develop it is welcome.

Link to team doc is here:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1WrAnrQ7B4dFxtCdNhDpqTuQKGKkFTpgQXpfwSq77Lqw/edit?usp=sharing

Link to curriculum outline I am playing with is here:

https://docs.google.com/a/sfbrandeis.org/document/d/1pp0T7PAHYfZdKibmIwdTmsDMnxohwk_atrvL895pwog/edit?usp=sharing

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6 comments

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Photo of Matthew
Team

Joanne Beckwith, Jen Davenport and I prototyped this idea at The Teachers Guild's session at Steelcase last night.

Our idea was to create a sequence of activities that build toward answering the fundamental question of "What do you (I) value?"

The sequence would be to:
- identify 3 variables that the student wants to measure (books read, steps taken, Instagram likes, hours on Netflix, calories, etc.) which could include some prompted teacher suggestions
- the student would then set goals for those 3 values over a period of time (a month, a semester, etc.)
- the student would determine ways to collect data and (where possible) AUTOMATE data collection.  Examples of this could be using a fitbit or cheap pedometer, signing up for Goodreads, etc.
- after data collection has been completed, the students will organize their data ( a spreadsheet, a database) and considers metrics that could be useful (ratios, comparisons to self at different times periods, comparisons to peers, comparisons to global or community norms, etc.)
- next the students would create visualizations of their data (infographics, motion charts, etc.)
- finally the students would construct a narrative of their data experience with the central conflict of the narrative focusing on their effort to achieve their goals.  The narrative could consider the conflict between goals (want to read more, but spent more time on Netflix than planned) or the rising and falling action of working towards one's goals over time.

In the end, this project would help students to identify the variables in their lives that they value and understand how their own actions relate to their goals.  This may also help them to understand the difference between their intended values and their actual values.  Furthermore, students may come to understand how their personal values can be undermined by external measurements and audiences that provide them with feedback, criticism and validation.

Photo of Sandee
Team

Great work! I am polishing and posting more info tonight.

Photo of Jessica
Team

Sandee,
Love the update. I might add a bit more information in the section "What is the problem this idea solves?"-- perhaps add some info on how you are addressing this problem through your idea?

Do you have a google doc or such where you are working on fleshing out the ideas?

Photo of Jessica
Team

Sandee, 
What do you imagine this looking like in the classroom? Students self-selected data? Teachers requiring certain types of data? Or would be even more open-ended than that?

Photo of Sandee
Team

John,

Thanks for your comment! I think it could probably have lots of tie-ins. What I really want is for students to see math as another way of communicating information. I think this would help it feel more accessible for those who are more math-phobic.

Photo of John
Team

This would dovetail nicely with the notion of Math Trails, where students explore the real world by solving math problems.  I learned about it from Canadian Ron Lancaster at an Exeter math conference.