4 unusual ways to explore data with your classes

It doesn’t have to just be graphs and spreadsheets - Kate Hodge looks at the engaging approaches you can take to crunching numbers with your students

Kate Hodge

Unusual ways to explore data with students

When we think about teaching data skills, it’s easy to jump to spreadsheets, bar charts and statistics.

But the principles of data collection, presentation and analysis can be taught across a huge variety of subjects, using all sorts of engaging approaches, from quizzes to app design and dance.

The weather offers a perfect way in to teaching about data, enabling you to cover all the key skills in one tangible topic.

1. Explore the world of weather forecasting

Let students know that the weather forecasts they come across every day rely on gathering, processing and communicating vast amounts of data. This 60-second video from the Met Office shows just what goes into the process (with the help of supercomputers that can complete 16,000 trillion calculations a second).

And your students can bring their own weather data to life in this lesson, also from the Met Office. The activities start with a research task on how weather is measured – for which these additional insights might be useful – before getting practical.

Pupils are then asked to collect and record data before presenting it in an interesting way. Graphs are great for building in some maths or you could get more creative with representations using Lego or building blocks.

2. Build your own weather station

You could get your students to collect additional data with these weather station building tasks, which offer step-by-step instructions on how to build a wind vane and thermometer box (alongside rain gauges).

Using the weather to teach data skills

With all this data being collected, your mini meteorologists might enjoy sharing their findings on the Weather Observations Website (WOW). This is a platform for observers of all ages in locations across the world to share information about the weather in their area. And it is much more than just a place to log information: the Met Office uses the shared insights to help with its forecasting and the accuracy of its predictions.

Taking part is simple. You head to the website, search for your area and share your information. High-tech equipment is optional: you can use data from a weather station if you have one, but your students can also upload photos or just look out of the window and log what they see.

3. Delve into data visualisation

Sharing the weather can lead to thinking about communicating information, and this lesson from the Met Office is a great way to get pupils learning about data visualisation. The activities develop many key skills – from written and oral communication to visual storytelling – as pupils delve deep into the world of weather symbols.

The lesson begins with a video about the different technologies the Met Office uses to collect and analyse weather data (including temperature-sensing seals and satellites), as well as how they bring it to life. Pupils are then invited to explore how weather symbols have changed over the years and evaluate them.

Your class can get creative by splitting into pairs and designing an app that helps different audiences – including beach lifeguards, construction workers and hospital administrators – to get information on the weather.

Each pair is given an end-user profile (there are eight to choose from) and a ready-made storyboard that they can use to design a front page or logo for the app, its homepage and a forecast.

And with your budding designers inspired, you can begin to look at how data representation feeds into computer science. These quick activities from Barefoot offer short, sharp ways to teach pupils computational thinking skills and concepts such as abstraction, decomposition, collaboration and spotting data patterns.

The sheets are differentiated for each age group and bring in a variety of fun tasks. For five- to seven year-olds, for example, you could try the group task where pupils choreograph a dance routine before writing an algorithm for it. Meanwhile, older pupils may enjoy working in pairs to write a Whodunnit quiz, which they can test and then debug if required.

4. Combine data and literacy

This lesson from Data Education in Schools is for those reading The Boy At The Back Of The Class by Onjali Q. Raúf. It supports teachers and pupils in exploring and analysing data about refugees, including examining how the information is presented and whether we can trust it, bringing in those all-important critical thinking skills.

You can find a wealth of free resources for schools on the Met Office website  

Kate Hodge

Kate Hodge is a freelance education writer

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