Aaron Reedy noticed something was missing from high school science classrooms. A former Chicago public school teacher and current Ph.D. student at the University of Virginia, he was unsatisfied with the available data analytics software options and felt that in order to simulate a professional lab setting, something had to be done.
With input from teachers involved with Evolution Education, a project focused on collaboration between scientists and teachers founded by Reedy and colleague Robert Cox, he created DataClassroom, a program for high school and middle school students that performs both data visualization and integrated statistics.
“For the last five years I’ve been immersed in this world of data analysis while working on my PhD, but for seven years before that, I was in a high school classroom trying to figure out the ways I could do the biggest and most ambitious science with my kids,” Reedy said. “[This tool] is built for classroom teachers, meets kids where they are and can do a lot to encourage the type of hands on experimentation that I think is really memorable to kids.”
Reedy’s work with Cox culminated in a new model for K-12 science education that is focused on teacher participation in scientific discovery. Scientists at UVa partner with teachers during workshops and fellowships to share insight on science in the classroom and techniques for using experimental learning. Cox says the ideas behind Evolution Education contributed to DataClassroom.
“The thing that we centered on when we started putting together [Evolution Education] was, no matter how small or how specific, students had the opportunity to think of a question and think of how to answer that question,” Cox said. “The core idea behind of both of them is give high schools the opportunity to do real science.”
Reedy developed the program around the idea of data visualization, allowing students to view and manipulate data to help them better understand it. The application will allow students to enter data from any type of experiment and create a visual representation of the data points before prompting students to estimate the mean, variance, and other statistical measurements.
“It’s pretty amazing to see because most kids do have a kind of intuitive sense,” Reedy said. “That’s what we want to build on: training kids to use your eyes first, observe, form an opinion of what you think it means and then compare those results to your analysis.”
Cox feels the visual aspects of the program are what make DataClassroom special.
“Even in academic science, there aren’t that many great programs that provide really simple, clean graphics and outcomes,” said Cox. “Something that’s simplified, streamlined, affordable, that does it all as a sort of standalone thing, I think would be pretty novel for a classroom.”
Of the programs that do exist, Cox said many are expensive and are not a realistic option in a typical high school classroom. Reedy wants to keep DataClassroom affordable.
“Because I worked in Chicago Public Schools and because I worked with some communities that were really resource-limited, I would like to think of creative ways that we can get it in the hands of those schools more affordably,” Reedy said.
He plans on distributing DataClassroom through licensing contracts where school districts can purchase the program and have access to it in all of its schools. In addition to this licensing, he hopes to distribute the program by way of teachers who individually seek it out.
“It’s important to me that I have some pricing that makes it available for individual teachers, cheaply,” Reedy said. “If there’s a teacher that wants to push ahead with designing bigger and better experiments and more authentic science as a process type experiments, I want them to get the tools. They’re going to be the ones who are going to say ‘I love using this thing, can we get a license for every student in this school.’”
DataClassroom is still in the development stage and Reedy is working to incorporate all his ideas into one intuitive program.
“A lot of data analysis platforms are really expensive,” he said. “They assume a graduate level of knowledge in statistics and there’s very little in the way of help. The platform is just a screen covered with numbers and outputs and it can be very tricky to navigate. I felt it didn’t have to be that way.”
A Jefferson Scholar at UVa, Reedy received $21,000 from the Exploratory Fund, a fund established to support startups, to begin creating DataClassroom.
James Wright, President of the Jefferson Scholars Foundation, says the Exploratory Fund is a perk of the scholarship program and helps to attract the best students to UVa.
“We don’t pretend to have the kind of expertise that [Reedy] has,” said Wright. “We felt that his proposal had a great deal of merit and that the software application tool seemed pretty intriguing to us, so we were persuaded that we ought to accept his proposal and make a grant so that he could pursue it and make it a reality. We’re cheerleaders as much as anything.”