Big Data Book & App

Data Science For the Middle School Years

Slowly, ever so slowly, bricks-and-books schools are starting to teach procedural literacy - the ability to read and write programs. Some are doing it at the same time they teach those children how to read. Good for them.

Meanwhile, the focus has shifted to data: Big Data. To truly engage the sciences of life in their high school years, students need to be fluent in both. If the elementary years are the years for programming, the middle school years are the years for Big Data and the stories it tells us.


[Data scientists] are involved in gathering data, massaging it into tractable form, making it tell its story, and presenting its story to others. source

This is what our brain does all day. It takes input ... and synthesizes it into a story that makes sense. source


As the data has gotten bigger, it has become more important than the algorithm that runs on it.


It’s not who has the best algorithm that wins, it’s who has the most data. source                   


Data Stories is a gentle introduction to Data Science in eleven lessons grouped into seven units.

Unit One: Mostly For Grown-ups

Students can skip Unit One. It sets the scene for the lessons that follow and gives your parents some of the historical perspective they like to have. It is helpful, however, for youngsters to at least peek at the opening chapter about telling stories with data.

Unit Two: Remembering the Old Number Science

Subjects like arithmetic and algebra are designed for a datum here and a datum there, not for serious mountains of data. It helps to remind ourselves of this reality by recapitulating some of the old two-pieces-of-data-at-a-time homework assignments.

Unit Three: Planetary Data Science

Geography is the study of the stage on which life hoofs. Where once it was studied on hand-drawn maps, it is now documented in millions of Geographic Information System (GIS) data sets. Students in the middle school years may assume that this data is too hard for them to master. Here they see that it is not too hard at all.

Unit Four: The Data Thickens

In any good story, the plot emerges when protagonists from different backgrounds (whether they be people or data sets) come up against each other. Data science has its own ways of doing these juxtapositions; Unit Four is where students learn how.

Unit Five: Character-izing Your Data

No good story treats every participant the same way. The important ones need to be brought front stage while others are left back in the chorus. Here is where students learn to draw out the main elements of their data story.

Unit Six: Three Examples Of 21st Century Data Stories

Now that students know how to work with GIS data, and how to make it tell its story, they see how to use it to, for example:

  • make a business more profitable
  • save a local community from over-development
  • see the juxtaposition of climate ecology and politics

Unit Seven: A Life Science Story Preview

Unit Seven unveils the excitement to come. The laptop in a a student backpack is a window into:

  • Life At the Cell Level, where proteins fold up and interact with small molecules that turn their volume knobs up and down.
  • Life At the Organism Level, where individuals with the right attributes flourish and outcompete their less well-endowed neighbors.
  • Life At the Species Level, where each species seeks out places on the planet where it can thrive. (Spoiler Alert: Those species niches are moving pretty fast as the planet hots up.)