Making true connections between Project Based Learning (PBL) and math is a challenge for me. As a teacher at a first year STEAM school implementing PBL, I am constantly trying to find ways to integrate my projects in my math classes. There are superficial ways to do this, but as a math teacher, I wanted to find a way to make math the star of the show. So when Ben Paul, a data analyst at Edmodo, contacted me about coming into my class and working with the kids, I was ecstatic! He wanted to share with my students what he does at Edmodo and how important data is to his job.
We discussed different ways to make this relevant for the students and we wanted it to center around a social justice issue because that was what the kids have been working on in their PBL unit for STEAM. One of our overarching questions for the unit was What are the causes and consequences of prejudice and injustice? An article about female stereotypes in Disney movies had just come out, and we decided this would be the perfect vehicle for the students to learn about data. The article touched on the social justice issue of gender stereotypes and had enough data for the students to play with and use as evidence to support their claims.
We started out by asking the students about female stereotypes and discussed where those stereotypes might come from. The students brought up media and movies, and out of that came Disney. That was when the discussion really heated up. There was a lot of talk about which princesses fell into the stereotype and which didn’t. We then asked the students to respond to this prompt: Do Disney princesses fall into the traditional female stereotype? Use the data to support or refute your claim. The students had much data at their fingertips. They had information on speaking roles by gender, movie writers by gender, sidekicks by gender, number of compliments to a female character based on looks as well as skill and gross revenue for the movies.
The students were able to select any data they thought would help support the claim. We went through how to use google sheets to help them display and sort the data. The students then went to work. With the support of Ben and Kelsey Gross the students were able to answer some challenging questions. They used Ben and Kelsey’s data expertise to discuss which graph might work better and why, which data they should use, and most importantly: Is this graph showing me the results I want? Is this data actually supporting my statement?
I was blown away at the ease with which the students interacted with Ben and Kelsey. The conversations they were having with professionals in the field were far beyond anything I could have imagined. Ben and Kelsey pushed and challenged the students to look at the data and connect the data with their findings. Here are some of the student’s reactions to having Edmodo in our classroom:
- “What we liked most about Edmodo coming to our classroom is that we got to experience what people working at Edmodo do as part of their job and how it works. It was intriguing.”
- “Some things we liked about Edmodo coming to our classroom are that they told us about themselves and their jobs at Edmodo. Also, we liked how they told us how important data is for Edmodo.”
The students felt comfortable enough to open up to them, and they received valuable feedback from them.
As the students presented their findings they were able to respond to each other using the vocabulary of professionals, and they had precise statements and questions regarding the data that was being shown. They were also able to have critical conversations about what worked and what didn’t work. They found that some data didn’t show them exactly what they were looking for, but they could see that the data would be valuable for a different question. Some of the student reactions were:
- “We learned that gender biases and stereotypes exist everywhere even though we already have human rights and may not notice it.“
- “We learned several things about data and how it’s related to the world and life. For example, we learned that movies can be stereotypical and this sends a bad message to women and how they should behave and look.”
The level at which my students discussed the data was inspiring. I believe that this was because of a combination of the topic and the support with which Ben and Kelsey helped engage the students in this activity. We decided to move into a STEAM focus for a number of reasons- one of which was to open the eyes of the students to fields of study that they may never have thought of before. It was clear at the conclusion of this lesson that the students had a different idea of data, how it is used, and that it can be fun!
It was truly amazing to have Ben and Kelsey come into the room and get their hands dirty with the students. Their open dialogue with the students really made the kids feel comfortable with them. Ben and Kelsey talked about their journey through school and careers that landed them at Edmodo. The students got to learn about how their interactions with Edmodo in the classroom help Ben and Kelsey do their job. I think more companies should push for their employees to get into classrooms with students. We owe Edmodo and Ben and Kelsey a huge thank you for taking the time to show students from the east side of San Jose that they are important and they have the ability and perseverance to think critically about real world situations.