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$1M NSF Grant Supports Project to Create Data-Literate Citizens

Researcher Working With DC Schools on New Capstone Course to Address Digital Information Inequity

By Hayleigh Moore

Illustration of person working on laptop

A UMD researcher is working with D.C. Public Schools on a curriculum to teach data science skills, along with knowledge about how data analytics and algorithms are used in society—and how they can reinforce inequality.

Illustration by iStock

A $1 million NSF CAREER grant will support a University of Maryland researcher’s work to develop a data science curriculum for high school seniors in District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS).

The five-year project led by David Weintrop, an assistant professor in the College of Education and the College of Information Studies, could teach skills and brighten job prospects for soon-to-be grads who aren't immediately headed for further studies in sciences, technology, engineering or math (STEM) fields. Perhaps just as importantly, it will give them greater understanding of how the data generated through phone, internet or other device use could affect their lives.

“This project is in part a response to the inequitable use of algorithms in society and the often invisible ways that data impact us,” Weintrop said. “I think it’s essential that all students have a foundational understanding of the role data is playing in our lives. This especially true for students from populations historically excluded from computing who are often most directly impacted by inequitable uses of data and technology,” including how biased algorithms could affect young people in a society that increasingly relies on artificial intelligence to make decisions.

In the project’s first year, Weintrop will oversee participatory design sessions with high school students from DCPS to better understand their experiences with data and the role that data plays in their lives. He’ll also be using these sessions to understand what the students are passionate about and how they can use publicly available datasets to explore their interests.

A follow-up series of participatory design sessions will be held with high school math and computer science teachers to co-design some of the materials that will be used in the curriculum.

“We hope to empower students to take ownership over the use of digital data through coding and data analysis,” said Madison Kantzer, manager of assessment and instruction innovations on the academic innovations team in the office of Teaching and Learning at DCPS.

The resulting curriculum from the project will be freely available online around the world. Additionally, Weintrop plans to share his research at educator-oriented conferences, as well as with other educational entities, such as the Maryland State Department of Education, with which he is currently working to aid the department’s mission to develop more data science courses for Maryland school districts.

The project also aligns with the DCPS’s ongoing mission to develop a data science course that can serve as an alternative to current math offerings like pre-calculus. By collaborating with DCPS, the idea is to create a curriculum that’s open to all high school students across DCPS.

“I care a lot about urban education and my work having an impact in classrooms that have historically not had the opportunity to use innovative, cutting-edge technologies or curricula,” said Weintrop. “We want to empower students to ask and answer questions with that data available in their world.”

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