Teaching students data literacy through everyday curricula

The free, interactive platform that has helped over 88,000 students across Canada learn and apply data science skills through their everyday curricula has been renewed for a further two years. With the new funding from the national CanCode program, the Callysto platform will continue its focus on developing responsible digital citizens, while increasing outreach to Indigenous and under-represented youth across the country.

Callysto is a web-based platform that helps students in Grades 5-12 strengthen their data literacy, data science, and computational thinking skills in the classroom, across any subject matter. It was developed by two not-for-profit technology and learning organizations, Cybera and the Pacific Institute for Mathematical Sciences (PIMS), and is accessible from any device with an internet connection.

“The amount and complexity of information, and information sources, being directed at people today is compelling us all to become more data savvy, particularly young people,” says Barb Carra, President and CEO of Cybera. “The overall goal of the Callysto program is to teach students to be data wise, and understand how to assess and question the information around them. This is the most effective way to foster responsible data citizens of the future.”

Callysto’s digital notebooks feature open-source tools and interactive elements that allow students to draw data from multiple sources online, analyze that data, and present their results in a variety of graphical forms.

Working with educators, Cybera and PIMS have so far developed over 150 different Callysto notebooks to complement existing Canadian curricula (including lessons in science, history, math, English, and other social studies). Training has been offered to teachers and students via workshops, one-on-one classroom sessions, as well as open events such as student hackathons.

Example notebooks offered through Callysto include a study of optimal conditions for laying traditional Tla’amin Nation fish traps in the Pacific Northwest (mixing lessons in geography, Indigenous history, and 3D math modelling), as well as an exercise in mapping global Covid patterns using data from Johns Hopkins University (mixing statistics with global social studies). The Callysto website also offers data visualization exercises related to current events, including exercises in mapping sports stats, as well as questions raised by global carbon emissions reporting data.

“Modern school curricula have placed a big emphasis on developing students’ data analytics and coding skills, to help prepare them for the future workforce,” says Ozgur Yilmaz, incoming director of PIMS. “For teachers left wondering how to impart those skills through their everyday lessons, this platform does a great job of showing how all topics can become a data science project, and how we can marry math and coding concepts with subjects like history or geography. It’s a fantastic way to build these next-generation skills into everyday topics.”

Over 3,300 Canadian teachers have been trained on Callysto to date. Lara Winstone, a teacher from Sentinel Secondary School in Vancouver, British Columbia, began using the tool with her Grade 11 IT class in 2021. Her students used the Callysto notebooks to explore Covid-19 outbreak models, as well as learn about complex ethical concepts through a “rigged dice” game.

“It’s important for me to develop their critical thinking skills, and these notebooks did just that, while also helping them expand their coding knowledge in Python and learn new data science skills,” says Winstone.

One successful format for engaging students has been through in-person and online hackathons, which encourage participants to use their imaginations to solve math or data-based problems. High school student Ryan Eggens participated in a “Colonizing Mars” hackathon in 2020, which invited students to determine if and how humans should colonize the red planet.

“I enjoyed how open-ended the hackathon was,” says Eggens. “Usually in school you’re given a few choices, then you have to pick an option and pursue that line of thinking. The hackathon allowed me the freedom to follow a path of my interests and develop the information and code to how I thought it related back to the initial question being asked.”

Cybera and PIMS have set up an online repository to publicly share the learning modules created through Callysto, and will begin adding new training content in the coming months. They are also planning on holding new training events across the country, and are seeking input from teachers and school boards to guide the next phase of module and training development. 

For more information about the program and partnership opportunities, visit Callysto.ca or e-mail contact@callysto.ca.

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