Thursday, April 24, 2014

Defining & Solving Problems with Big Data: Inquiry Based Learning

Inquiry-based instruction is a student-centered and teacher-guided instructional approach that engages students in investigating real world questions that they define with the purpose of solving a problem or uncovering correlations, trends or other interesting  outcomes. Inquiry-Based instruction complements traditional instruction by providing a vehicle for extending and applying the learning of students in a way that connects with their interests within the broader context of the world around them. Students acquire and analyze information, develop and support propositions, provide solutions, and create designs that demonstrate their thinking and make their learning visible. Research shows that the amount of student learning that occurs in a classroom is directly proportional to the quality and quantity of student involvement in the educational program. Inquiry-based instructional approaches reverse this trend, placing students at the helm of the learning process and teachers in the role of learning facilitator, coach, and modeler.

I have been working with a group of 12 students over the last 6 weeks in an inquiry-driven project: "The Pittsburgh Data Jam," a program of Pittsburgh DataWorks. Pittsburgh Data Jam is a pilot program designed to educate high school students about big data and its impact on personalization, prediction, privacy and professions. Along with 40-50 other students, Ellis girls were involved in this inquiry-driven program. The Data Jam included a hands-on data challenge where students choose a problem/project of their choice and show how data analytics can be used to understand and solve that problem. In addition they got to visit area big data companies and talk to data scientists in the field today.

Liliane, Pallavi & Charlotte
Two Seniors, who are also co-presidents of our Ellis Geek Squad and my interns decided to lead the Ellis team as their Senior Project. The girls met after-hours, at lunch and on weekends to work on this project. They used Design Thinking methods, such as What's on Your Radar and Rose, Bud, Thorn along with online research to define the problems they wanted to address. The Ellis team took on two main questions:

Christina, Rachel, Sanjana, Sam, Kate & Julia 

  1. How Does Park Space Effect Crime?
  2. How Does Public Transportation Effect Assault?
Both teams did amazing work! After a guided exploration of our topics as a group where we built empathy for each other, shared personal stories and gathered data sets, the team set predictions, goals and defined hypothesis for their research questions. We discussed correlation, causation and specific statistical tools like Tableau and tests like the T-Test and what P values were. It was amazing to see the girls learning through this guided method and teaching each others. I helped when they needed it but let them lead! They all used their strengths and contributed to the team led by Julia and Liliane. Once the girls tabulated the data, asked the Port Authority for a few items of clarification about the data set, they begun to create tangible artifacts in the form of visualizations, charts and posters that would share their findings. In an inquiry-driven process students arrive at a conclusion, take a stand and take action. They documented their findings, justified them through use of data and then shared them with the community at an event held at the University Club on April, 22 to their peers from other schools, parents and judges. It was amazing that the city innovation officer and county executive joined the event as well. The Tribune Review even covered the event

Through inquiry-based learning and participation in the Pittsburgh Data Jam, Ellis girls yet again demonstrated the power of student-centered learning. We ended up winning first place for our Public Transportation and Assault project! Better yet, the confidence and perseverance the girls gained over this six week period was noticeable. The smiles and enthusiasm even more noticeable. They presented the results of their project with ease and confidence! Inquiry-based learning requires students to actively use their hands and minds, and as a result, students are able to assemble ideas to create their own knowledge and understanding.

After winning First Place at the Pittsburgh Data Jam! 

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