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How do you attract students to STEM careers? Make data matter.

March 23, 2018

Creative, Education, Strategy

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Shannon Tucker, Director

The American labor market is changing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, statisticians and mathematicians will be the seventh and tenth-fastest growing careers by 2026. Many students find math boring or difficult. To spark student interest, educators must use real-world data on topics that students understand or relate to. 

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The U.S. Census Bureau was off to a great start with Statistics in Schools (SIS), a program that challenges students to tap actual census data to find answers in a variety of subjects. But Census needed to expand and promote SIS in ways that appeal to both teachers and students.

Enter Reingold: We helped Census create an expanded inventory of teacher-validated, turnkey classroom materials and a promotional campaign that increased SIS website hits by 51 percent during the national rollout. Our approach relied on four critical steps.

  1. Find Real Truths — Even Surprising Ones. The education market is saturated with resources. How do teachers choose? We talked with teachers across the country — from a variety of schools and learning environments — to learn about their needs and preferences. The insights were surprising: Even some math teachers told us that they weren’t comfortable teaching statistics. Some elementary school teachers didn’t think it’s possible to teach statistics in younger grades. And a number of sociology teachers didn’t have the resources they need to teach statistics-related concepts. So we focused on creating classroom materials that take the fear out of statistics education.
  1. Use Expert Input to Enhance Credibility. We enlisted the help of hundreds of teachers and subject matter experts from organizations like the American Statistical Association and National Council for Geographic Education to validate the quality of the materials and recommend improvements. And Census Bureau experts provided guidance based on their knowledge of the millions of data sets the bureau creates. 
  1. Be Creative. Students can be critical, especially about anything related to math. So Reingold created a colorful, student-friendly template for the SIS activities — with an appealing new teacher- and student-tested logo and tagline — to help overcome their resistance. Through creative queries, all 94 activities across five subjects (English, geography, history, math, and sociology) teach students to use real-life data. One elementary-level geography activity takes students on a scavenger hunt, using data about states — like their numbers of ice cream shops or amusement parks — to solve a mystery. A high school-level sociology activity asks students to examine census data to find out how young adults today differ from previous generations.
  1. Promote, Promote, Promote. It takes more than great materials to infuse data literacy into the curriculum. We took SIS across the country, hosting booths at events like the 2017 SXSW conference in Austin and the National Principals Conference in Philadelphia. We placed articles about SIS in the newsletters of organizations like the National Council for the Social Studies and the National Council for History Education. We sent regular digital newsletters to thousands of teachers and stakeholders with updates on the program. And we pitched stories to education, policy, and tech news media outlets — earning coverage in Education Week, Politico, Ed Tech, and more.

Earned media placements for Statistics in Schools

What’s next for SIS? As Census looks to the 2020 Census, SIS will help convey to students why data matters. And SIS will continue helping to prepare America’s future workforce for careers that involve numbers — in ways that resonate with students. Explore and download SIS activities and resources at www.census.gov/schools.

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