Data science for young minds
Decision-making begins at a young age, and evaluating probabilities and outcomes comes naturally to all of us. Yet, we wait for schools to formally introduce the statistic computation of probability, a decade after our minds have begun to make these subconscious calculations. Constructivism is the method of learning where you build upon what you know or have already experienced. It is easy for a parent to build new concepts and knowledge structures for their child, as they are acutely aware of what the child’s daily environment is, and how to incorporate new ideas into this framework.
As I walk down the road with my daughter to buy a book she needs for her school research, we reach a fork. To the left is a lane that leads to a children’s book shop quite some distance away, and to the right is an alley that leads to a children’s toys shop at a much shorter distance. We dither at the fork for a bit. My daughter thinks the toys’ shop would also stock her book and she would rather walk the short distance. I remind her that if we did not find it there, we would have to double back and walk to the book shop anyway. She replies ‘I’ll take my chances’. As we walk down the lane, I ask her if she would have still opted for the toy shop if it had been a couple of blocks further away. And she says ‘Hmm.. then the risk may not have been worth it, as I would have had to walk back a greater distance if I did not find the book there’. Her gamble paid off and she skipped home with her book, having saved herself the exertion of fifty additional footsteps.
Once home, we got ready to bake some cookies. One of my daughters lazily sprinkled the chocolate chips on the cookie dough across the platter, which ended in an uneven spread of these choco chips. All hell broke loose as her sister declared that this just wasn't fair, as she might end up with cookies with lesser chocolate chips. This was followed by a painstaking effort on both their parts to pick out the chips and evenly distribute them, till they were both convinced that they had an equal shot at wolfing down chocolate chips, when they blindly picked one from the jar.
Later, as we were reading a bedtime story that involved witches and spells, one of my daughters wondered ‘Do we have witches now?”, to which the other answered ‘Definitely not today. Magicians and witches lived earlier.’ Not entirely convinced, the other replied ‘Is it likely that the uncle who performed magic at my friend’s birthday party could put a spell on me?”. This got both of them worried and they convinced themselves that ‘it was rather unlikely that he had such powers, but not impossible’, and ended with the resolution that they would steer clear of all birthday parties with a magic show.
Probabilities are the heart of most of our actions even at home. The child first takes chances with stealing another cookie beyond the permitted number, as he is subconsciously weighing the ‘low probability of getting caught’ with and a ‘negative punishment’. And that is followed by the parent’s efforts at changing the location of the jar in the futile hope of ‘reducing the probability of finding the cookie’, or warns of greater punishment to ‘increase the negative value of the outcome’ further.
Helping your child think about ‘chances’, ‘what is fair game vs. not’, ‘which outcomes are likely vs unlikely’, in daily tasks should lay a good foundation to the constructs underlying the theories of Probabilities. Once the distinction amongst these types of outcomes is clear in their heads, understanding textbooks, which begin directly with the leap to mathematical representation of these concepts, becomes easier.
About the author:
Passionate educationist and entrepreneur building personalised learning and diagnostic products for K-12 institutions. Actively involved in working with schools to design curriculum and improve learning outcomes. After nearly 8 years in the financial services industry, Sangeetha took a sabbatical. She was drawn towards teaching, one of her greatest passions. It was during these 2+ years that she spent in various classrooms, she figured how personalising learning could radically improve the way children absorb information from their environments. Sangeetha has since designed solutions that help each child uniquely, using technology and analytics.
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