Coming into M-A, students are placed into one of several different math pathways. While many courses focus on heavy arithmetic, such as Algebra and Calculus, there are a few classes that are much more focused on projects, analysis, and applications. One of these is the newly piloted Data Science class.
Logistically, the class follows Algebra II. Additionally, a student can take Data Science after failing Finite Math & Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus, or Statistics. Technically, they could also take it after passing those classes, though this is rare. Data Science doesn’t have many prerequisites. According to Data Science and Pre-Calculus teacher Arminda King “We expect students to have an understanding of what mean, median, and mode are, as well as some basic probability concepts. However, we don’t assume any specialized knowledge beyond that.” This year, there was only one section offered, and the class was limited to seniors. In the future, however, King explained, “It may be open to more than just seniors.”
According to King, the field of data science covers “the analysis of data, including how it’s used for the improvement and detriment of society.” Thus, the content is somewhat similar to a statistics class. Unlike a standard statistics class, however, Data Science is very project based. In fact, there are no tests or quizzes; students’ grades are based entirely on projects and small daily “check-in” homework assignments. King said that, rather than spending long periods trying to calculate solutions, “We use a lot of computer models to do the ‘math part’ to garner data so we can spend much more time interpreting and understanding it.” At the start of certain days, King will go over important concepts that might be useful for projects, but the majority of the time is spent working in groups on the projects.
Some of students’ favorite assignments from the year include a python coding assignment and a music-based matrix assignment. For the matrix assignment, which students are working on right now, King said, “Students are using algorithms to determine what types of songs they might like. The first part of the project determined the particular attributes that made particular students like certain songs.” For the second part, King said, “We built a huge matrix for the entire class, and students could determine what students had similar music taste to their own.”
Because the class is being piloted, there have been some road bumps. King said, “Because of the pilot, I’ve followed a very standardized curriculum. Next year, I might remove the parts that I didn’t think were as intriguing and helpful to students, and add parts that would be better.” Moreover, because the class has very few lectures and instead relies on students working on projects, absences can be particularly challenging. Unlike a more traditional math class like Pre-Calculus, King said, “If a student didn’t learn how to graph a hyperbola, they can still graph an ellipse. However, if a student didn’t rate the songs for a project, they can get really behind.” Even with this, King mentioned, “Many of my students really enjoy the class.”
What started as a way for more students to receive a fourth year of math credit has become a favorite of many students.