How can I make Big Data relevant to my students?

Big Data is essentially the use of extremely large data sets that may be analyzed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions.

Ok – so what does that really mean? How can I apply this in real life?

An article by Sandra Durcevic of Datapine offers a simple explanation of how Big Data is used to make fast food faster:

“You pull up to your local McDonald’s or Burger King, and notice that there’s a really long line in front of you. You start drumming your fingers on the wheel, lamenting the fact that your “fast food” excursion is going to be anything but, and wondering if you should drive to the Wendy’s a block away instead.

However, before you have time to think about your culinary crisis too deeply, you notice that a few cars ahead of you have already gone through. The line is moving much quicker than expected… what gives? You shrug it off, drive up to the window, and place your order.

Behind The Scenes: What you may not have realized is that big data has just helped you to eat that fries and burger a little bit faster. Some fast food chains are now monitoring their drive through lanes and changing their menu features (you know, the ones on the LCD screen as opposed to the numbers on the board) in response.

Here’s how it works: if the line is really backed up, the features will change to reflect items that can be quickly prepared and served so as to move through the queue faster. If the line is relatively short, then the features will display higher margin menu items that take a bit more time to prepare.”

Cool! How else is Big Data used?

Companies like Starbucks also use data to ‘forecast’ the economic viability of opening a new store in a particular locality based on population density, average incomes, and traffic patterns. Health care organizations around the world look for trends and patterns to predict disease outbreaks. The CSA, NASA and ESA use satellite-based Earth observation data to help provide solutions for sustainable water and climate change.

How can I teach this in my classroom?

Participate in the Living Space Action Project! Let's Talk Science has partnered with the Canadian Space Agency to help students explore how environmental conditions such as carbon dioxide, humidity and temperature influence human health. With this action project you can practice your coding skills to code and record data within your classroom environment, share the data to our data collection database, and then compare and analyze the data with that from other classrooms across Canada AND the international space station!

Teaching Grade 10-12 computer science and want to take it one step further? Gather a group of students to participate in the STEM Fellowship’s Big Data Challenge! Gain access to open source data, learn how to analyze through workshops offered by industry professionals, and solve real world problems. Discover trends and look for the optimal conditions for life on earth and in space.

Looking for more?

Check out our SPACE website – full of videos, articles and other related action projects that you can use to create opportunities for inquiry and discovery. Need to brush up on your own skills? Join us for our Digital Literacy professional learning session on Big Data – developed and offered in partnership with Fair Chance Learning.