Unit 5 - Data and Society

This unit is about the importance of data in solving problems and highlights how computers can help in this process. The first chapter explores different systems used to represent information in a computer and the challenges and tradeoffs posed by using them. In the second chapter students learn how collections of data are used to solve problems, and how computers help to automate the steps of this process. The chapter concludes by considering how the data problem solving process can be applied to an area of the students' choosing.

Chapter 1: Representing Information

Big Questions

  • Why is representation important in problem solving?
  • What features does a representation system need to be useful?
  • What is necessary to create useable binary representation systems?
  • How can we combine systems together to get more complex information?

Week 1

Lesson 1: Representation Matters


This first lesson provides an overview of what data is and how it is used to solve problems. Groups use a data set to make a series of meal recommendations for people with various criteria. Afterwards, groups compare their responses and discuss how the different representations of the meal data affected how the students were able to solve the different problems.

Teacher Links: Resource | Exemplar Student Links: Activity Guide

Lesson 2: Patterns and Representation


This lesson looks closer at what is needed to create a system of representation. Groups create systems that can represent any letter in the alphabet using only a single stack of cards, then create messages with their systems and exchange with other groups to ensure the system worked as intended. The class discusses commonalities between working systems while recognizing that there are many possible working solutions.

Teacher Links: Manipulative | Exemplar Student Links: Activity Guide

Lesson 3: ASCII and Binary Representation


This lesson introduces a formal binary system for encoding information, the ASCII system for representing letters and other characters. At the beginning of the lesson the teacher introduces the fact that computers must represent information using either "on" or "off". The class is then introduced to the ASCII system for representing text using binary symbols and practices using this system before encoding their own messages using ASCII.

Teacher Links: Exemplar Student Links: Activity Guide

Lesson 4: Representing Images

This lesson continues the study of binary representation systems, this time with images. The class is introduced to the concept of splitting images into squares or "pixels" which can then be turned on or off individually to make the entire image. After doing a short set of challenges using the Pixelation Widget, the class makes connections between the system for representing images and the system for representing text they learned in the previous lesson.

Teacher Links: Slides

Week 2

Lesson 5: Representing Numbers


This lesson introduces the binary number system. With a set of cards that represent the place values in a binary (base-2) number system, the class turns bits "on" or "off" by turning cards face up and face down, then observes the numbers that result from these different patterns. Eventually, the pattern is extended to a generic 4-bit system.

Teacher Links: Exemplar Student Links: Activity Guide | Manipulative

Lesson 6: Keeping Data Secret

Students have a discussion on the different levels of security they would like for personal data. Once the class has developed an understanding of the importance of privacy, they learn about the process of encrypting information by enciphering a note for a partner and deciphering the partner's note. The class concludes with a discussion about the importance of both physical and digital security.

Teacher Links: Exemplar Student Links: Activity Guide

Lesson 7: Combining Representations

This lesson combines all three types of binary representation systems (ASCII characters, binary number, and images) to allow for the encode of more complex types information in a record. After seeing a series of bits and being asked to decode them, the class is introduced to the idea that understanding binary information requires understanding both the system that is being used and the meaning of the information encoded.

Teacher Links: Exemplar Student Links: Activity Guide | Reference

Lesson 8: Create a Representation

Unplugged | Project

The class designs structure to represent their perfect day using the binary representation systems they've learned in this chapter. After deciding which pieces of information the record should capture, the class will decide how a punch card of bytes of information will be interpreted to represent those pieces of information. Afterwards, everyone will use the ASCII, binary number, and image formats they have learned to represent their perfect days try to decipher what a partner's perfect day is like.

Teacher Links: Exemplar Student Links: Project Guide | Rubric

Chapter Commentary

This chapter focuses on data representation and its role in solving information problems. Students learn what a representation system needs to be useful, and how computers are able to represent different types of information using binary systems. For the chapter project, students represent their perfect day in a binary punch card and trade with classmates to decipher.

Chapter 2: Solving Data Problems

Big Questions

  • How does data help us to solve problems?
  • How do computers and humans use data differently?
  • What parts of the data problem solving process can be automated?
  • What kinds of problems do computers use data to solve in the real world?

Week 3

Lesson 9: Problem Solving and Data

This lesson covers how the problem solving process can be tailored to deal with data problems, in particular. The class is tasked with deciding what a city most needs to spend resources on. They must find and use data from the Internet to support their decision.

Teacher Links: Exemplar Student Links: Activity Guide

Lesson 10: Problem Solving with Big Data

This lesson covers how data is collected and used by a organizations to solve problems in the real world. The class looks at three scenarios that could be solved using data and brainstorms the types of data they would want to solve them and how they could collect the data. Each scenario also includes a video about a real-world service that has solved a similar problem with data.

Student Links: Activity Guide

Lesson 11: Structuring Data

This lesson goes further into the interpretation of data, including cleaning and visualizing raw data sets. The class first looks at the how presenting data in different ways can help people to understand it better. After seeing how cleaning and visualization can help people make better decisions, the class looks at what parts of this process can be automated, and what need a human.

Teacher Links: Exemplar Student Links: Activity Guide

Week 4

Lesson 12: Making Decisions with Data


This lesson gives the class a chance to practice the data problem solving process introduced in the last lesson. Not all questions have right answers and in some cases the class can and should decide that they should collect more data. The lesson concludes with a discussion of how different people could draw different conclusions from the same data, or how collecting different data might have affected the decisions they made.

Teacher Links: Exemplar Student Links: Activity Guide

Lesson 13: Interpreting Data

Students begin the lesson by looking at a cake preference survey that allows respondents to specify both a cake and an icing flavor. They discuss how knowing the relationship between cake and icing preference helps them better decide which combination to recommend. They are then introduced to cross tabulation, which allows them to graph relationships to different preferences. They use this technique to find relationships in a preference survey, then brainstorm the different types of problems that this process could help solve.

Student Links: Activity Guide | Resource

Lesson 14: Automating Data Decisions

In this lesson students look at a simple example of how a computer could be used to complete the decision making step of the data problem solving process. Students are given the task of creating an algorithm that could suggest a vacation spot. Students then create rules, or an algorithm, that a computer could use to make this decision automatically. Students share their rules and what choices their rules would make with the class data. They then use their rules on data from their classmates to test whether their rules would make the same decision that a person would. The lesson concludes with a discussion about the benefits and drawbacks of using computers to automate the data problem solving process.

Student Links: Resource | Activity Guide

Week 5

Lesson 15: Project - Make a Recommendation


To conclude this unit the class designs ways to use data to make a recommendations or predictions to help solve a problem. In the first several steps the class brainstorms problems, performs simple research, and defines a problem of their choosing. They then decide what kind of data they want to collect, how it could be collected, and how it could be used, before exchanging feedback and giving a final presentation.

Teacher Links: Exemplars Student Links: Project Guide | Peer Review | Rubric

Chapter Commentary

Students explore how data can be used to answer interesting questions and solve problems. Using a modified version of the general Problem Solving Process, students look at how computers and humans use data differently and the pros and cons of automating problem solving. After learning ways that computers use data in the real world, students choose their own problem and use data to address it.