North Carolina State University, a pioneer in the data science education field, served as the setting for the state’s first-ever data science education summit.
It takes a village to educate a student — especially when the landscape is changing.
On September 28th, NC State’s Data Science Academy partnered with Data Science 4 Everyone, the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, The Science House, and the NC School of Science and Mathematics to host the first statewide NC Data Science Education Summit.
The convening brought together key stakeholders in the state from the higher education, K-12 education, industry, and nonprofit sectors focused on creating a common vision for data-empowered teaching and learning in K-12 schools across North Carolina. Ray Levy, Professor of Mathematics at NC State University and Executive Director of the Data Science Academy, summarized the focus of this cross-sector effort: “We need to bring data science education to all 100 counties… and make North Carolina a model for the country, if not the world.”
Along with several local institutions, the NC Department of Public Instruction sponsored the event and gathered content experts from both Career and Technical Education and Mathematics education to support these conversations, engage with community participants, and think forward about North Carolina’s future in data science education.
“The NC Department of Public Instruction is excited to be able to collaborate with stakeholders from across the state on this project, as we recognize that our graduates will need to have ample experience with using and analyzing large amounts of data when they enter the workforce. As NCDPI continues to develop learning pathways for students, the inclusion of data science as a means for applying math standards in rigorous and relevant ways will become more and more important to their success. The NC Data Science Education Summit was a great chance to start that collaboration, and we look forward to this continued partnership and the work ahead.” — Charles Aiken (Section Chief, Mathematics, Science and STEM, NC Department of Public Instruction)
“Data Science is critical, in every industry, to help push innovation, creativity, and lead the way for the future. Students need to be exposed to data, and be comfortable with interpreting, manipulating, and creating visuals to tell the stories of today and the future. The NC Data Science Education Summit was a magnificent opportunity for individuals to come together to discuss actionable paths forward for promoting Data Science. This was the first day of what I think will be bright days ahead for education in North Carolina to lead the way on Data Science.” — Eli Hamrick (Secondary Computer Science, IT, and Technology Education Consultant, NC Department of Public Instruction)
North Carolina State University (NCSU) has made a name for itself by adopting a teaching model that incorporates data science across all 10 of its colleges, and many speakers from the K-12 and higher education fields focused on the ways in which North Carolina’s students can benefit from this kind of interdisciplinary approach to data science education:
“When I talk to people outside of tech, I let them know that you don’t have to be a computer scientist or a data scientist. You do need to become data-driven and data-literate to function in a world with the tech developments of the last 20 years. We need to think of data as a natural resource like air or water or oil. And we need to get that thinking in place as early as possible.” — Timothy Humphrey (IBM Chief Analytics Officer)
Incorporating data education foundations early was a significant focus of the conversation. Both for a wide variety of careers, but even more so for everyday life functions like consuming the news or navigating personal finances. Data is becoming an increasing part of the modern daily fabric:
“Everyday life, the tools we interact with, and what is required of the workforce is now filled with data. Even our news is full of data… and yet students do not get the opportunity to interact with it in the classrooms… we’ve got to change that, and change that quickly.” — Hollylynne Lee (Distinguished Professor of Mathematics and Statistics Education, NC State University; Director of the Hub for Innovation and Research in Statistics Education at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation)
“The modern world is rich in data and poor in data literacy. Data science education arms students with the skills they need to become critical thinkers and responsible citizens in an information-laden world. For traditionally underserved students in particular, data science also provides a means to empowerment. In addition to job market appeal, learning data skills can give students new windows into exploring and contextualizing real issues that affect their lives.” — Dashiel (Dash) Young-Saver (High School Math Teacher, San Antonio, Texas; Founder and Executive Director, Skew the Script)
“Today’s lawyers, judges, and legislators need a basic level of familiarity with data science, given its growing relevance to legal issues.” — Terry A. Maroney (Professor of Law, Vanderbilt University Law School)
Yet, the adoption of data science curriculum in classrooms across the country, including in North Carolina, hasn’t yet caught up to NC State University’s bold vision for the subject. Most students don’t encounter data science until they’ve reached upper-level high school courses like AP Statistics, which means it can be difficult for students to build the comfort and confidence they need to explore the subject fully in college and beyond. The call for a change came from educators and students directly:
“[Data science] creates more ownership and agency over what they’re doing in the class. Students also envision themselves as mathematicians or scientists more so — they are doing the work, rather than repeating it, and it allows them to experience real skills in the workforce that a mathematician or scientist will use in their careers and daily lives.” — Emily Shy (Teacher of Mathematics and Science at J.F. Webb High School in Granville County)
“I took a risk to take a non-Pre-Calc course. Because of that opportunity, I was able to get into NCSSM, and do a variety of research experiences that I would not otherwise have known existed. The risk paid off, but it should not be a risk for anyone. I truly believe at the bottom of my heart that data science should be for everyone.” — Kenzo Hubert (NC State University Student)
According to North Carolina’s Department of Commerce, computer and mathematical occupations that rely on the skills learned in data science courses are projected to become one of the fastest growing occupational groups in the state, with an estimated 20,000 jobs in the sector to be added before 2026. Increasingly, success in the job market, regardless of industry, relies on one’s ability to both produce and interpret data.
“The world is now data-infused, and we have very large datasets that we can use in many different ways for many different applications — our teachers need to know how to use it, and support their students in doing so… they will live in a world full of data, and we need to help them prepare for that.” — Paola Sztajn (Dean of NC State’s College of Education)
“Data science education equips students with analytical skills that enable them to make informed decisions and solve real-world problems in an increasingly data-driven society. When we introduce these concepts early, students can explore more diverse career opportunities, creating a skilled workforce and ultimately contributing to North Carolina’s technological and economic growth.” — Talithia Williams (PH.D. PBS Nova Wonders, Harvey Mudd College)
A recent analysis of job posting data conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute illustrates this growing emphasis on advanced quantitative and computational skills in the workforce, including the use of artificial intelligence. Though there is some controversy over how artificial intelligence should be used in the classroom, many speakers at the summit highlighted how this new technology should be treated as a new tool for students to learn, rather than a shortcut.
Teachers are not waiting. During the afternoon, convening attendees had an opportunity to engage in a gallery walk of data science and data literacy lesson plans developed by K-12 educators from across North Carolina — including many graduate students at NCSU’s Friday Institute. The topics of content varied widely: predicting cell phone battery life over time, finding outlier weather patterns, analyzing traffic patterns in Durham, collecting 3-point rates in basketball, even counting and categorizing ladybugs to build data intuition. Yet they all shared a few key characteristics: real datasets, robust analytical techniques, and a shared commitment to empowering students in an increasingly data-fueled world.
K-12 educators from around North Carolina share their classroom lesson plans.
The experience developing and teaching data science “has allowed me to see how mathematics is connected to real life.” — Kelley Anderson (Mathematics Teacher, J.F. Webb High School, Granville County)
At the close of the summit, participants shared commitment statements focused on identifying how they intend to support data-empowered teaching and learning in North Carolina over the next five to ten years, ensuring that this first-annual event will have a long-lasting effect on the state. North Carolina is uniquely positioned to lead the data science revolution across the nation, and this is just the beginning of the state’s journey into the future of education.
Most exciting, state leaders announced the launch of the North Carolina Data Science + AI Education Network, which will carry forward the work of the convening into a statewide working group. This network will serve as just the start of the data science revolution sweeping the Tar Heel State.
“In our data-driven world, we are preparing students not only to navigate, but also to innovate. By integrating data science across our high school curriculum, we’re fostering data-literate youth equipped to lead North Carolina forward in an ever-evolving digital age.” — Kevin Baxter (Vice Chancellor and Chief Campus Officer, North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, Morganton)
The call to action is already making a national impact and was recognized by national representatives in attendance:
“Thank you for your interest as a state, for North Carolina to take the bold step to recognize data science as vital and critical for our students’ future as it is” — Kevin Dykema (President of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics)
Data science and AI education is just beginning. North Carolina has an opportunity to become a national if not international leader in these subjects. The ingredients are already in place.
*Attributed quotes were either submitted prior to the summit or spoken during live presentations. For questions on the summit, the newly announced North Carolina Data Science and AI Education Network, or other, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org