Connecting Environmental Data with Real Life

Statistics for Action aims to help adults understand how to read and interpret data, and shares resources with which to do that in a classroom or community setting.
The site is focused primarily on data about environmental issues, air pollution, toxins in our drinking water or soil, chemicals in our food.  Because of this, it is easy to draw connections from the materials to students’ lived experiences.

The site has a wealth of ready-to-use materials, designed by educators, for teachers to choose from.  The material is already targeted to adults, so it is well suited for adult literacy classrooms.  All of the materials start from the understanding that reading and interpreting data is difficult for everyone and especially challenging for those with lower literacy skills.  Therefore all of the materials start from the basics and focus on building understanding as you go.  There is minimal required background knowledge to get started.

Resources include dozens of exercises and a few complete lesson plans.  A great many of the resources are in English and Spanish.  As a teacher, you will be most interested in the page “Activities” under the menu “All Materials.”  You should also visit the page “SfA for Educators,” under the menu “Using SfA,” which has a few lesson plans developed for and tested in the classroom.

The most challenging part of this website is that there are so many resources, it’s difficult to know where to begin.

I’d say, start with your students.  Ask them what environmental issues they are concerned with.  Is there a factory in their area that they are worried about?  Are there unsafe bodies of water in their neighborhood?  Are they concerned about GMOs in their diet?  Then determine what is it that students want to find out.  Start there, and then choose exercises that fit their concerns and questions.

Another great place to start is the issue of The Change Agent that was co-written by SfA, which you can find on the website under the “All Materials” menu.

Once you have your topic, or issue, you can go through the categories of materials to see which aspect of understanding statistics you’d like to delve into with your class.  The categories are: understanding, analyzing, assessing, and communicating.

You can also look at the four lesson plans under “Using SfA” and “For Educators” to see how teachers combined different exercises to form a complete lesson.

Some exercises are targeted at helping students understand dense technical texts.  I loved an exercise that had small groups of students each look at a small chunk of a technical text and write down observations/ questions/ next steps on sticky-notes, which were categorized on the board so we could make observations as a full group.  (This exercise is called “A First Look at Technical Documents”.)

There are some exercises well suited for math classrooms.  One exercise I loved was about understanding how exposure to toxins works.  It asks students to calculate exposure in several different scenarios.  This exercise led to rich discussion as we talked about how students went through different processes to calculate the exposure.  We put a few methods on the board for the same scenario and discussed which ones worked and which didn’t.  (This exercise is called “Exposed!”)

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About Meghan McNamara

Meghan teaches science and reading & writing at the Lehman College Adult Learning Center. Last year she developed and taught a year-long course that used Rebecca Skloot’s THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS to build science literacy and confidence in STEM skills in women adult learners. Meghan also teaches robotics to middle-schoolers and previously was director of programs at Girls Write Now, a nationally-recognized writing and mentoring program for underserved NYC high school girls.

4 thoughts on “Connecting Environmental Data with Real Life

  1. I like how the website is organized; I found it fairly easy to navigate and full of meaningful, interesting lessons/topics. Teachers can choose which standard they would like to focus on and find an activity suited to that particular standard.

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  2. Using data and statistics has helped us to analyze the student needs and customizes lessons to assist student in their studies. As educators in the O.A.C.E, we are data driven and we have been using data successfully in achieving our academic goal. We have also used Change Agent as one of our resources to assist students. We are excited to see others using the same resources.

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  3. I was just at a training where the facilitator (shout out to Connie Rivera) had us work through several activities designed to use mathematics in the context of science and social studies. We used a few activities from Statistics for Action. I would highly recommend taking a look at both Memorable Messages ( – where students look at examples of how one fact can be presented in different ways and discuss which ones are the most powerful and Memorable Graphs ( – where students look at how a fact or data set can be represented using different graphs and discuss which ones are the most effective. These are both really well structured activities that you could do before having students design their own public service announcement around whatever issue you are learning in your class. There are infographics all around us and it is a powerful tool to have students begin to think about the impact of the way information is presented. It is also great to be able to use meaningful math in a real context.
    I’ve been working with a few other folks on a lesson around sugar consumption and soda that we want to end with students coming up with a message and a visual representation to support their message with their community as an audience. These SfA tools will definitely come in handy.

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