Mathematics Project

A Handy Guide for Infusing Data and Geometry Throughout the Curriculum

By Sarah D. Sparks — July 31, 2023 4 min read
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Before high school, statistics and geometry often get shunted to the end of the academic year, increasing the odds that teachers may not get to them.

The tips, examples, and resources below can help educators incorporate the concepts earlier in the year through projects that cut across different types of math.

Statistics Tips

  • Don’t wait for an official unit. Statistics units often fall at the end of the year, putting them at greater risk of being squeezed out. Third grades at Explorer Elementary in Kentwood, Mich. participate each fall in a data investigation (similar to a science fair project) to learn how to ask mathematical questions about data.
  • Leverage data science and statistics projects to reinforce other concepts. For example, Georgia teachers use lizard habitat data to teach 8th grade algebra and science as well as statistics.
  • Encourage discussions. Tennessee teachers developed interactive lessons to get kids talking more about data in the real world.

Go Deeper With Geometry

  • Start early. “In order for students to get the depth they need to in high school geometry, there are experiences they need to have in early childhood, elementary, and middle school,” said Trena Wilkerson, a past president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. “Spatial reasoning is so much more than just naming shapes. It’s really understanding how those shapes are developed, what their attributes are, and how they’re connected.” Geometry also lends itself to interdisciplinary learning, such as city planning projects in social studies and paper airplane competitions in science.
  • Engage kids’ creativity. “For many of my students, I found they could really engage in the visual connections that geometry affords,” Wilkerson said, “and because the geometry connects to algebra concepts … for some students, it was an ‘aha’ moment of being able to understand the mathematics and see the wonder, joy, and beauty in mathematics as well.”

What It Looks Like in the Classroom

Statistics: Dione Maxwell, the head of math curriculum and instruction at Loganville High School in Georgia, uses a regular skit from “The Tonight Show”—in which host Jimmy Fallon asks guests to take turns smashing eggs on their heads—to teach her students across grades about probability. Teachers can recreate the skit with plastic, confetti-filled eggs, a deck of cards, or a web-based simulation site.
“At the beginning, they need to know, OK, there’s four raw eggs. I have a 4 out of 12 chance of getting a raw egg smashed on my head. But they also need to know that the probability changes every time an egg is chosen. So the kids then play the game using a simulation through the cards or a website. They come up with what the law of large numbers is, and we discuss it as a class, but it’s richer because they’ve discovered it, rather than me just telling them a definition of something,” Maxwell said.

Geometry: Wendy Lichtman, a math intervention specialist at MetWest High School in Oakland, Calif., partnered with a community art group, called the Rock, Paper, Scissors Collective, to teach students geometry by making quilts to donate to local hospitals and foster care agencies.

“Kids don’t care a great deal about two lines being crossed by a transversal, but in quilting, it does matter; the fabric has to fit. The amount of puzzle solving is quite satisfying,” said Lichtman, who shared a sample quilting lesson plan.

Guidance and research

Here are resources to help educators deepen their own knowledge on statistics and geometry and its role in education.

Lesson plans and tools

  • Statistics Education Web: Includes lesson plans that are peer-reviewed by the American Statistical Association, including Egg Roulette.
  • Skew the Script: Teacher-developed lesson plans focused on social contexts, such as using school funding data to discuss random sampling and bias or data related to online dating profiles to show conditional probability.
  • StatsMedic: “Experience first, formalize later” middle and high school lesson plans intended to encourage more student dialogue in math.
  • Slow Reveal Graphs: Elementary and secondary lesson plans and slide decks that allow a teacher to walk students through the information in complex data charts, including Jenna Laib’s country flag colors chart.
  • Common Online Data Analysis Platform: A free, web-based data tool for educators and their students
  • Census at School: An international classroom data collaboration involving students in the United States and New Zealand, which allows students to generate and explore demographic and survey data on random samples of students for class projects.
  • GeometryByExample: An ongoing project by the SERP institute and Temple University researchers to develop and test meaningful lessons in geometry. The project focuses on high school but has related sites including lessons for elementary and middle school.
  • Spatial Reasoning Mathematics Program: An Australian research project to develop spatial reasoning tasks for early grades.

Dive Deeper

This story is part of Miscalculating Math, a deep examination of math instruction.
Overview and key data: Advocates say reforms in math teaching are pushing out statistics and geometry and driving a drop in students’ math scores. Here’s what you need to know.
Q&As: Hear three professionals talk about how they use statistics and geometry in their careers.
Handy guide: Find tips, lesson ideas, and free resources for beefing up instruction in statistics and geometry.
Quiz: Test your knowledge of math concepts, and then see how U.S. students fared.
Complete Coverage: There’s even more to explore on this topic. Check out the complete collection, Miscalculating Math.

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