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Data Fair Highlights the Role of Math in the Fight for Social Justice

Monday, June 27, 2016

Each year, Manhattan Country School hosts a Social Justice Data Fair featuring student work and a keynote address. This year’s event took place on Thursday, June 2. Conceived of as a piece of curriculum that would help highlight math as an important tool in our proverbial toolbox, the annual event is now in its sixth year.

For the eighth-graders, the data fair is a capstone project. Students research an issue of their choosing and hone their visual storytelling skills, preparing a compelling collection of graphs, info-graphics and maps to draw attention to the key concerns they want to raise awareness about for their issue. This year’s topics included:

  • The impact of our food choices
  • The disconnect between public opinion around the health risks of abortion and the reality that far more women die during childbirth than from legal abortions
  • Elitism in New York City private high schools as compared to Ivy League colleges
  • Mandatory minimum sentencing and the racism embedded therein
  • The gender pay gap between male and female athletes
  • Mental health
  • Body image
  • Asthma rates and environmental racism
  • Giant Panda habitat loss and protection
  • Access to health care in the United States
  • Syrian Refugees
  • HIV/AIDS in the United States
  • Visual impairment in the United States
  • Segregation in U.S. schools

Seventh-graders served as docents for the event, touring our youngest visitors around the fair. Their work from our percent change unit was also on display, through which they investigated changes in the average coming-out age of LGBTQ people, childhood obesity rates, CO2 in the atmosphere, demographics of professional and youth sports, demographics of lead actors in Hollywood films, incidence of rape, motor vehicle deaths, the gender pay gap and more.

Sixth-grade work featured at the fair collectively focused on investigating bias in web-based image searches.  One student shared, “In this project, I investigated images with the term ‘person.’ Overall, seven percent of images showed females while 93 percent showed males…Two out of six women were black, showing that black women were the minority in the search. I’m surprised that search engines in this world think that people looking for an image of a person would rather see white men than women.” Other search terms investigated included mathematician, nurse, people, police officer, doctor, banker, Harlem, lawyer, Asian, Hispanic, parent, transgender, student, homosexual, scientist, athlete, military, senior citizen and teacher. 

“My favorite thing about the Social Justice Data Fair was how much we were able to impact the people attending the fair,” said one eighth-grader. “I believe we were being true activists during the fair.”

Another eighth-grader added, “I was really surprised by how interested people were in our projects. I expected the younger kids to be distracted, however they continued to ask questions about the topic.”

Mid-morning, parents, staff and students in fifth through eighth grade gathered in the Music Room for the keynote address. Seema Saifee, a human rights lawyer with The Innocence Project, spoke about The Role of Data in Exonerating Wrongfully Convicted Individuals and in Reforming the Criminal Justice System to Prevent Future Injustice. She was joined by exoneree David McCallum, who reflected on his experience of being arrested for and convicted of a murder that he didn’t commit at the age of sixteen and his struggle to restore his liberty during his 29 years of incarceration. 

The 45-minute presentation had a strong impact on the students. “I was kind of sad that the talk was so short because it was really interesting, important and eye opening…and a lot of people had more questions,” said one eighth-grader.

The presenters were equally impacted by the experience. “David and I were both so moved by the event,” said Seema. “The questions were incredibly thoughtful and the level of engagement was amazing.”

Social Justice Data Fair Reflections

My favorite thing about the Social Justice Data Fair was…
… being able to show the 7-8s around and helping them understand some of the projects.
… learning things I didn’t know.
… interacting with and talking to people. Some of our conversations were very interesting.
… being able to talk to adults and children about the data that I found.
… the keynote speakers.
… seeing all the projects that the eighth-graders worked hard researching and creating posters on.
… getting to put information into terms that were more easy to understand.
… working with my partner
 
Something that interested me was…
… how each eighth-grader went in great detail to explain every aspect of their topics.
… how hard it was to find data that was kind of related to my topic
 
Something that surprised me about the data fair was…
… that the WNBA player that is paid the most would be the least paid player in the NBA.
… how interested some of the little kids were in my project.
… the attention that younger children displayed.