Usually, when we mention data + kids in the same sentence, we’re referring to some great tool we built, like the Western Cape Youth Explorer, that showcases demographics for youth across the Western Cape.
But in October, we did something a bit out of the ordinary. We hung out with some kids and created, cleaned and visualised some datasets. Before you roll your eyes, get this -
They. Loved. It. #nuffsaid
Here at Codebridge, we’re all about opening data and using it to make informed decisions. But we’ve found that unless people understand or know how to work with the data, it is meaningless.
So in our quest to build a more informed and data-literate civic society, we decided to try and introduce the concept of data literacy early to foster a culture of interrogating issues and using data to find solutions. So far, so good.
What’s your flavour?
What’s your favourite wine gum? That’s what kids at the Cape Town Science Centre were tasked with finding out during our data literacy workshops that ran over the October school holidays and Africa Code Week.
It might seem like a petty mystery to solve, but using something the children could relate to was integral to introducing the concept of data handling, collecting, cleaning, capturing and visualising. In fact, our biggest challenge seemed to be stopping them from eating the data.
The point of these workshops? To build a more data-literate society who use data to make informed decisions. On a larger scale, this could mean deciding who to vote for, or at a more grassroots level, which school to send your child to based on the school’s performance rather than proximity. Perhaps even which movies to watch, to help influence views on gender equality and other important social issues early on.
In fact, we introduced the significance of data by looking at movies and examining the distribution of dialogue between men and women in Disney films.
SPOILER: the data shows that men speak significantly more than women in most films, even Princess films aimed at little girls.
Once the children grasped the significance of why data is important, how it impacts our thinking and how it helps us make decisions, we requested their assistance to help a leading sweet brand find out which is the most popular flavour wine gum.
We did this by first conducting a survey in the room (sometimes with 5 participants, other times 20). Multiple methods were used to try to collect the data: everyone shouting out their favourite flavour, the raising of hands, standing in groups and, eventually, visualising their data on a physical bar graph on a white board.
The children were then dispatched with survey forms and pens to gather data from visitors around the centre to find the most popular wine gum flavour. After they returned, we got down to some capturing and visualising, with surprising results.
It came as no surprise that black and red wine gums came out tops as the favourite. This was consistent with the actual wine gum survey done by aforementioned sweet brand. What was amazing was how fast kids of different ages grasped the technology. While the curriculum was tailored for 10-12 year olds, our participants ranged from as young as 4 to 14 years old. And everyone completed a spreadsheet showcasing their wine gum data.
Younger kids favoured data collecting, while most 12-14-year olds spent more time on the computer playing around with colours and formats to visualise their data. One positive learning to emerge was that most kids 10-years and over are familiar with data handling, which means that schools are taking this part of the curriculum seriously.
Parents also reported enjoying the workshop, almost as much as the kids. One of the moms, Tanja Bosch, who is a senior lecturer in the Centre for Film and Media Studies at UCT, said that introducing kids to spreadsheets this early is an excellent idea, as she’s found university students often struggle with basic data visualisations.
At Code for South Africa - after running a data-journalism academy for the past year - we have found the same spreadsheet anxiety in working professionals. We like to think we’re helping overcome that data hurdle before it can even develop.
And what did the kids say?
These data literacy workshops are part of a larger plan to launch data clubs in schools next year. Data literacy is becoming an increasingly more important life skills as we become a more information-producing and -consuming society.
In an age where we are bombarded with information on all sides throughout every day, being able to look at the data to determine what is the truth, what is a trend, what are problems and how to solve them, should become as familiar as navigating social media.