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Data literacy is a big buzzword these days. Corporate boardrooms are doubling down on digital transformation, data science is still one of the fastest growing career paths, and school districts are demanding more data from their technology partners and looking for ways to increase the data skills of their students to prepare them for college and an increasingly data-driven workforce.

One of the more exciting trends to arise from this ‘data mania’ is the idea of a data culture. This is showing up in the highest levels of corporate thought leadership and it makes sense – by 2025, McKinsey estimates that “nearly all employees will naturally and regularly leverage data to support their work.” The first steps to getting here for forward-looking organizations (and schools)? Build a data culture and start now.

So, what is a Data Culture?

Data culture is what happens when a group of people value, practice and encourage the use of data to improve their decision making and drive better outcomes for themselves and their organization. It can be as simple as devoting 15 minutes a week to exercises that encourage students to engage with data to requiring students leverage data and data visualization in their assignments. The key to keep in mind is that data culture can be both a state of mind and a journey. To be successful in cultivating a passion for data, it must be something we teach often and integrate broadly.

Why does it matter for education?

Odds are, if you’re reading this, you’re concerned with ensuring your students are set up for success for what’s next, whether that be the next grade level, college, entering the workforce, or maybe just that quiz next week. If you’re not regularly incorporating the use of data in the classroom today, building an entire culture around data use can seem overwhelming.

Further, we’re often hampered in our quest to incorporate data thinking into the classroom by other factors like limits on instructional time, trying to prepare students for standardized tests which increasingly require solid understanding of how data works and is interpreted, or just having the internal resources necessary to make a focus on data successful. Add to this the fact that data literacy is showing up in state and national computer science standards, and it becomes clear that having a solution to teach data literacy is quickly becoming a need to have for school districts to ensure they’re preparing their students for future academic and career success.

5 tips for building a data culture in your classroom

The good news is that, just like every workplace grappling with these issues, the journey to build a strong data culture in your classroom can begin small and grow over time. Here are 5 ways you can begin quickly:

  1. You’ve already started! Recognizing the importance of data thinking and being committed to incorporating it in your classroom is the first step.
  2. Next, begin with the digital basics. Ensuring your students have a firm grasp of technology fundamentals is a must-have to enable them to tackle higher order data tasks in spreadsheets, databases, and coding.
  3. While your students are growing their technology skills, start introducing more advanced data concepts using free resources. Some of the biggest names in data (think Tableau) have great resources for teaching advanced data concepts and even make their business intelligence (BI) tools available for free for some students and educators to practice and learn.
  4. Find creative ways to integrate data projects into the classroom for all subjects (yes, even ELA). There are some exciting products and free resources like Tuva, YouCubed and Data Science for Everyone to help you get started.
  5. Set realistic expectations. Realize that this is a journey and, if your school doesn’t already have a strong data culture, you might be leading the way. Good for you! Just keep the principles of change management front and center: start slow, celebrate early wins, and KEEP AT IT.

Getting started with building a data culture in your classroom can seem like a big task but if you break it down into small steps, continue to level up your own understanding, and find creative ways to incorporate data into your lessons and assignments, you’ll be setting your students up not just for academic success, but preparing them to compete (and win) in a world that is increasingly digital.

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