Data science class offers L.A. Unified students a new handle on math

By Ryan Menezes | LA Times

During first period at Francis Polytechnic High School in Sun Valley, Monica Casillas asked her students to line up in order by height so she could organize a human representation of a “box-and-whisker” plot.

As they filed into place — most boys went to one end, most girls to the other — Casillas drew the data visualization on butcher paper. The rectangle in the center showed the typical heights of the class, with straight lines called “whiskers” extended from the box to show how far away the tallest and shortest students were from the middle.

Thomas Navas, a 5-foot-2 junior, found himself at the end of a whisker, the shortest student in his Introduction to Data Science class.

Standing at the end, Navas wondered what affected his height. Could his lack of sleep — about six hours a night — keep him from growing?

Asking questions of data is the aim of the class, which is being offered at 10 Los Angeles Unified School District high schools this year. The class gives students an alternative to traditional math; its curriculum is grounded in hands-on data collection, plus lessons in computer programming so students can get answers from data, a trade highly valued in many industries.