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Teachers Bring Data Experiences to NC Students through InSTEP’s Data Investigations in the Classroom Project

A group of teachers sit around a table on laptops

To help bring real data experiences to students in the classroom, 21 North Carolina teachers from seven counties were paired with data scientists during the kick-off of the InSTEP Data Investigations in the Classroom project. The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation’s Invigorating Statistics Teacher Education Through Professional Online Learning (InSTEP) team hosted the event Sept. 23 for teachers and data scientists to begin their work together to create and implement data investigations in teachers’ classrooms. 

“The energy in the room was a clear indicator of how passionate teachers are about designing investigations their students will care about,” said Hollylynne Lee, a Distinguished Professor of Mathematics and Statistics Education in NC State’s College of Education, senior faculty fellow at the Friday Institute and HI-RiSE director. “We can’t wait to see how these investigations develop and the ways in which teachers and data scientists work together in the design process. This is truly a great example of how educators can learn from the practices of data scientists and how they can provide rich learning opportunities to ignite passion for working with data in their students. Data scientists also learn more about the educational process and what students may be passionate about and capable of at early ages with their work with data.” 

Students are exposed to swaths of data every day. According to the Hub for Innovation and Research in Statistics Education (HI-RiSE) team, people need to be able to make sense of this data in order to participate in and understand the world around them. Bringing teachers and data scientists together to help bring real data into the classroom is one way to help students build these sense making skills.

InSTEP is a free, innovative and personalized online learning platform that allows teachers in grades 6-12+ to develop their expertise in teaching statistics and data science. This project, supported by a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s DRK-12 program, has a goal to design a new way to support teachers’ professional learning in online spaces. The InSTEP Data Investigations in the Classroom program is an in-person supplement to the online platform.

Senior Research Scholar and HI-RiSE Co-Director  Gemma Mojica talks with a group of educators and data scientists at a table in front of laptops

At the kickoff event, the InSTEP team – led by Senior Research Scholar and HI-RiSE Co-Director Gemma Mojica, Lee, Research Scholar Emily Thrasher and Graduate Research Assistants Michelle Pace and Bruce Graham – provided professional development around the data investigation process. Teachers got to experience what it was like to go through the process as a learner as they investigated the nutritional content and prices of cereal as a popular breakfast item. Lee facilitated a panel discussion during the event with the data scientists about their roles and responsibilities and what educators should be communicating to students about what data scientists do. Teacher teams were then paired with a data scientist to begin brainstorming and planning data investigations and possible data sources. Teachers will implement these investigations in their classrooms during the 2023-24 school year.

“I’m excited to collaborate with other educators to create a real-world data investigation task for my students,” said Cheri Fennell, a math teacher from Durham Public Schools. “Through the InSTEP platform, I’ve learned the data investigation process and key considerations to plan activities and help guide students as they engage with data. I plan to develop interdisciplinary investigations to promote data science not just in my classroom but throughout the school.”

A group of educators sit around a table on laptops

The teachers in this program represent middle and high schools from Wake, Durham, Orange, Cabarrus, Johnston, Granville and Cleveland counties across multiple disciplines including math, statistics, science and social studies. The six data scientists participating in the program are from several organizations and industries including RTI International and WestEd. Scientists were paired with one or more teams of teachers to assist them in development of their data investigation using open access large data sets applicable to the phenomena or problem the team wants to build their investigation around. Teams will meet once a month or more to work on their lesson plans and artifacts. In June 2024, the teams will convene to celebrate the completion of their work. These lesson plans will be hosted on the InSTEP professional learning platform so that over 700 teachers enrolled across the country can learn from and use these investigations in 2024 and beyond. 

Learn more about the InSTEP platform at