Category Archives: General

Our project featured in School Library Journal!

Thank you to Carli Spina and School Library Journal for featuring the work of our project alongside that of Eleanor Tutt and her team at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Catherine d’Ignazio and Samantha Viotty of Emerson College’s Engagement Lab. From Spina’s article:

Data is all around us, from the output of your Fitbit to interactive maps that track voters to the latest visualization of the New York Times front page. With the rise of mobile devices and wearable technology, data is more available to general audiences, and the amount being generated has also exploded …

One reason data literacy is vital is that “[i]n what some are calling a ‘post-truth world,’ students seem to focus on numbers a lot,” says Jo Angela Oehrli, learning librarian/children’s literature librarian at the University of Michigan Libraries. Students believe that if a number is connected to information, “it has to be a fact. But numbers are manipulated all of the time….We want students to have a tool kit of questions that they can use to question the data that is out there.”

To this end, Oehrli and Kristin Fontichiaro, clinical associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Information, have been leading an IMLS-funded project called Supporting Librarians in Adding Data Literacy Skills to Information Literacy Instruction. Through data literacy programs and data science training, librarians can ensure that students develop the skills to question and interpret data in the news or that they generate through their day-to-day activities. They might even set some students on the path toward a career in the expanding field of data science …

There are many resources that support teaching data literacy, no matter your background …

All of these tools can serve as the basis of a larger conversation about the role of data in public discussions, such as the way that schools use student data to make curriculum decisions or how local governments track traffic data to make decisions about signage and stoplights, and what questions students should ask when they encounter data and visualizations in their daily lives.

For those who want to go even further, the University of Michigan initiative Supporting Librarians in Adding Data Literacy Skills to Information Literacy Instruction has brought together a group of data and curriculum design experts to create professional development resources for librarians.

Under the guidance of Fontichiaro and Oehrli, this team hosted a free virtual conference in the summer of 2016, and they are preparing for a second one scheduled for July 20–21 2017.

The team has also written two books due out this fall, Creating Data Literate Students, which collects chapters by the curriculum experts on teaching data literacy in the classroom, and Data Literacy in the Real World: Conversations and Case Studies (both Maize Books), which will collect approximately 40 case studies about data literacy. The duo is also presenting a poster about their work, “Real Strategies to Address Fake News: Librarians, Data Literacy, and the Post-Truth World,” at the 2017 ALA Annual Conference this month.

The overarching message from all and other data initiatives? Don’t be scared by it. The goal is that “high school librarians will start to feel comfortable talking about data literacy issues with their students and fellow teachers,” Oehrli says.

“So many librarians were humanities majors with little exposure to data, and so many classroom teachers think of data in terms of test scores,” adds Fontichiaro. “By focusing on high-impact strategies, we want librarians and teachers to feel empowered by data, not victimized by it. Our early efforts show that a little knowledge has significant impact.”

You can read the entire article here. By the way, you can catch Catherine and Sam’s presentation on the easy-to-use data analysis tools at if you tune into the closing keynote of the 4T Data Literacy Conference on Friday, July 21. Check out the schedule and register here!

Team Member Tasha Bergson-Michelson Featured in School Library Journal

We’re delighted that our teammate Tasha Bergson-Michelson was featured in Adrienne Matteson’s School Library Journal article, “Teaching News Literacy? Check Your Own Bias, Says Librarian.” Some excerpts from the article:

If you are like me, the alarm about “fake news” reached a fever pitch in your librarian circles weeks ago … But what about the students who distrust the “mainstream media” and feel their views are more represented in sources you consider untrustworthy? How do we teach the skeptics to be critical thinkers and fact checkers, without alienating them by discounting their beliefs? …

Tasha Bergson-Michelson, a librarian at the Castilleja School in Palo Alto, CA, has been digging into the question of how to teach young people to interrogate what they read, hear, and see. She doesn’t want her students to trust a source unless they have good reason to. Her 10th graders work through a unit on source evaluation that involves them coming up with a shared rubric for the standards by which they will judge whether a source is trustworthy or not. Her students use the standards they’ve identified to argue the validity of the sources they choose moving forward in the project. Bergson-Michelson wants her students to understand that all news sources have a perspective, but they can look through that perspective to assess whether or not the information provided is fact-based and trustworthy …

The best way to begin that cultural change is to face our own biases. Last spring, while Bergson-Michelson set out to teach her students about evaluating the news, she realized that she relied on the same handful of news sources, all of which leaned in one political direction. She sought credible sources from the other side of the aisle …

Her advice for reaching students who think differently than you: practice what you preach …

You can read the complete article here.

(By the way, author Addie Matteson is an alum of the U-M School of Information. Go Blue!)

Why care about data literacy? Check out these slides

Our team member Jennifer Colby, a teacher librarian at Huron High School in Ann Arbor, put together an informative presentation called “What is Data Literacy: Getting our students from data to knowledge.” In it, she expresses the importance of data literacy in classroom learning and gives four salient reasons, quoted from her slides:

  1. To develop literacy skills
  2. To develop standardized test taking skills
  3. To address state and national standards
  4. To develop informed citizens

Her slides highlight examples of how to approach data, statistics, and visualizations. Data literacy applies to all content areas. Take a look at the infographics on Romeo and Juliet — they give plot insights through their visual representations of events.

In the big picture, data literacy helps students with “understanding,” “extracting,” and “presenting” data. With so much data in school and everyday life, these competencies are key.

Keep her points in mind to incorporate data literacy into your instruction.

Holistically Integrating “Real Math” into the Curriculum

Calculus Image

“Andrew Hacker, a professor of both mathematics and political science at Queens University has a new book out, The Math Myth: And Other STEM Delusions, which makes the case that the inclusion of algebra and calculus in high school curriculum discourages students from learning mathematics, and displaces much more practical mathematical instruction about statistical and risk literacy, which he calls “Statistics for Citizenship.””

Andrew Hacker has an intriguing idea that the high school math curriculum needs to be radically re-examined.   And, no … He’s not talking about Common Core!  What if we didn’t teach Algebra II and Calculus in high school and instead taught, “Statistics for Citizenship?”  Would there be less math anxiety for students?  Would lessening the requirements for some professional training , like EMT training, open professional doors and expand the workforce?  Would students be more statistically literate and better citizens?  Would we finally be able to answer the age-old, high school question, “When am I going to use calculus in real life?”  (And just to be clear … I LOVED math in high school and took every math class that I could!).

Hacker is advocating that teaching statistical literacy explicitly in a classroom devoted to these concepts is better than dedicating part of the day to teaching advanced math.  Statistical literacy is one of the main concepts of the grant this year.  Overall, I’ve really struggled with looking at how teaching data literacy can be holistically integrated into the curriculum.  I want our work to be useful and successful so implementing it is always on my mind

School librarians present an interesting model for holistic integration of any curricular change.  While some teachers think that librarians are only working with English or Social Studies teachers, school librarians can work with any teacher — Some work with Health teachers as students create posters representing good health practices.  Others work with science fair participants to create solid ideas around the practical application of scientific concepts.  The list goes on and on.  As one of our Library Development Officers used to say to potential donors, “The Library is for Everybody.”  Having a separate statistical literacy class flies in the face of having students see how any information literacy concept is integral to the rest of their work as they encounter the practical application of these ideas throughout their day.

Dedicating part of the day to statistical literacy is intriguing to me.  Having a class like this occupy some of the day’s “real estate” would send a signal that statistics for citizenship is important for our children … Yet … I always wonder about the holistic aspect of separating out overriding conceptual ideas into their own place in the curriculum.  I struggle with this separation in teaching information literacy too — Why can’t info lit be more grounded into the rest of the curriculum, especially at the college level?  I’m not sure that I know the answers to these questions.  Maybe we could find a thematic approach — Students could have a separate class AND apply statistical literacy ideas in science, English, government, and other classes.  Is that asking too much?

Image:  “Calculus” by fitriahandayani on Flickr. CC-BY-2.0.