Sometimes it feels like the world of K-12 education is drowning in trends and buzzwords.
Personalized learning, formative assessments, whole person education – it can make you dizzy! Some trends come and go, but some stay with us.
Let’s take a look at two lasting trends that have had a proven impact on student learning and have influence education approaches worldwide.
The first trend is experiential learning.
This concept of “hands-on” learning focuses on letting students learn through practical experiences. The positive impact on students is widely recognized, but this approach can be difficult to put in place in practice.
The second trend is data handling.
This reinvigoration of statistics is a practical merging of traditional math and science subjects. The approach arose from recognition of the increasing role that data plays in our lives.
It has become a core part of most modern curricula, moving from upper secondary to as early as lower primary grades.
Now, what if we combined the two and took an experiential learning approach to teaching data handling?
You’d get students collecting, interpreting, and acting on real data with a real impact.
Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Let’s go through the 4 ways that this approach benefits students.
When dealing with real-life data, answers often lead to more questions. Instead of answering prepared questions, students can follow a (teacher-guided) journey of questions and answers to find conclusions of real impact.
Young students love to ask “why”. With real data instead of prepared data sets, you can truly “follow the whys”, with each graph leading to a new one.
“Why does the Old Block use so much more energy than the New Block?”
As students “follow the whys”, they may realize that not all of the answers are easy to find.
They’re not “in the back of the book”, so to speak. Students will need to make inferences based on both data and their general knowledge of a situation. Much as they will need to do as adults.
Chances are they will need to identify what information is missing and think about how they can get that information. This practical experience of investigating data helps students understand the importance of each step, from start to finish.
“We used less energy than normal last week. I think some year groups were on a discovery trip last week, but I’m not sure. I need to ask somebody to find out and confirm my hypothesis.”
Moreover, these investigations force students to apply learning from multiple subjects, especially math, science, and social studies.
This combination of subjects as part of a single project helps to show students the role each subject plays. It might even spark some interest in a least-favourite subject!
“I love helping the environment, but I never knew that I could use math to do that!”
Most important is the fact that these learning experiences have a meaningful impact. Students, like adults, are more motivated when they know their actions and efforts will have a real impact.
Using real data to conduct real investigations and make real change is a perfect recipe for lifelong lessons.
“We used what we learned in class to reduce energy use at our school. Our savings were equal to taking four cars off the road for a month!”
These types of projects are not easy to come by and are even harder to carry out. But their value is indisputable.
A recent student impact study by Harcourt Education Measurement showed significant gains in students’ science and mathematics learning among K-12 students using internet-based real-time data 
So, when a one-stop shop of data collection, storage, visualization, and analysis presents itself in a student-friendly learning portal…it’s worth a second look!