Nancy Van Oort presenting her research project from the Questar III BOCES STEM Research Institute.

Nancy Van Oort presenting her research project from the Questar III BOCES STEM Research Institute.

Columbia Math Teacher Nancy Van Oort participated in the Questar III BOCES STEM Research Institute this summer to develop a new lesson for her Probability and Statistics class. The 7-week research program pairs teachers with private businesses and colleges to conduct research and develop new teaching methods or lessons.

Mrs. Van Oort conducted her research project at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with Dr. Santiago Paternain, an assistant professor in the engineering department, to learn more about machine learning and computer programming.

“It was a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s always interesting to me to get together with different people and talk about education. It gives you a different perspective.”

Mrs. Van Oort created a data visualization lesson that will be used in the first unit of Statistics later this fall. The students, who are mostly seniors, will work in groups to explore the same data set to support different positions. They will use Python, a computer programming language, and Google Colab to create pie charts, bar charts and histograms.

In the past, this work would have been done by hand or on a graphing calculator. But in the real world, as Mrs. Van Oort said, coding and open source programs allow for a more efficient way of interpreting and illustrating data.

“What I’m trying to get them to realize is that data is just that. It’s just information. And how you put it together and display it provides the opinion that you’re trying to send out to your viewers,” said Mrs. Van Oort. “So I’m really hoping that by using the exact same data for three separate viewpoints it has that impact.”

The lesson will also incorporate soft skills such as communication, problem solving and working in teams.

“I attended Nancy’s presentation of her work this summer,” said Math Department Chair Frank DiDonato. “Her lesson is engaging, relevant, and encourages collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. Nancy did outstanding work and I am anxious to hear how the lesson she devised is implemented in her classroom.”