‘Big data’ classes a big hit in California high schools

Data science — the study of computer-generated “big data” — is the hottest career in the U.S., according to Glassdoor. And now it’s the hottest math class at a growing number of California high schools.

About 30 high schools in California have started offering data science classes for juniors and seniors, in some cases as an alternative to Algebra 2. A hands-on blend of statistics and computer programming, data science meets the requirements of A-G coursework — the series of classes in English, math, science, foreign language, history and other core subjects necessary for admission to the University of California and California State University systems — and doesn’t require prior knowledge of computers or statistics.

Data science is the study of large sets of data, using computers to look for patterns and trends. In data science classes, students write computer programs that help sort through data and identify regularities — essentially “taking a big data set and dancing around it and getting it to tell you its secrets,” according to math education consultant Tim Erickson, who writes data science curriculum.

And it’s proven to be a popular addition to high school math departments.