Developing a Data Analytics Course for Low-Income High Schools

November 20, 2019

A new class offering at select high schools in San Jose, Philadelphia and Cleveland is exposing low-income students to data analytics, preparing them to leverage future career opportunities stemming from advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence. The new curriculum was made possible with a grant from Deloitte Foundation, which supports education through a variety of initiatives that help develop the talent of the future and promote excellence in teaching, research and curriculum innovation, and Base 11, a nonprofit focused on engaging students from low-resource communities with STEM education, and was developed in consultation with UC Irvine. The award was made to UCI to develop a high school data analytics course targeting the needs of low-income students and involved a partnership between UCI’s Office of Access and Inclusion (OAI) for the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) and the Samueli School of Engineering

“The goal is to introduce high school seniors to data analytics, so they know how to use, analyze and visualize data, and can learn about possibilities for pursuing further education and career options,” says Sharnnia Artis, assistant dean of access and inclusion. Together with project team leaders from Deloitte Foundation and Base 11, Artis worked with Assistant Professors Roderic Crooks of Informatics and Sameer Singh of Computer Science to develop the curriculum and train the teachers.

High school teachers and ICS/OAI faculty and staff at the “Data Analytics Course” train-the-trainer session held at UCI.

“For low-resource communities, data science offers a bridge to high-skilled jobs,” says Singh. “The proliferation of data science means there are jobs available in many areas.” In fact, data scientist was No. 1 on Glassdoor’s list of the top 50 jobs in America for 2019. Singh also points out that “with readily available public datasets, documentation and source code, and the need for only a basic computer, many of the barriers to training are removed.” Recognizing the role STEM education can play in creating opportunities, the project team set out to design the new data analytics course.

Engaging and Flexible by Design
“This was the first time I was helping to develop a course at this level, so it was challenging,” admits Singh. The project team had to determine how much technical background to include for both the students and teachers and find ways to ground abstract machine learning concepts in examples relevant to the students. “We focused on interactive, exercise-based teaching, which is uncommon for how machine learning has been traditionally taught,” says Singh. “Identifying appropriate exercises was challenging but fun.”

They also had to account for a wide range of teacher experience and expectations as well as differences in class size, course placement and geographic location. The teachers they hosted in August for a weeklong training session all came from schools that are part of the Cristo Rey Network of schools for students from economically disadvantaged families.

“We wanted to emphasize the many ways that data science is already a part of daily life,” says Crooks. “We included examples of people using data for creative inquiry, community organizing and self-expression in domains as varied as public health, civil rights, fan culture and professional sport.”

Flexible by design and grounded in experiential learning and culturally relevant pedagogy, students at the various schools are all learning the same concepts and tools, but they’re doing so using unique examples and projects. “We wanted to create a curriculum that would let students see examples of data and data science in action and enable them to choose to use data for their class projects that coincides with their interests,” says Crooks.

The curriculum also emphasizes real-world implications, including the potential for mistakes and data misuse. “Results from data analytics directly impact us,” says Singh, “so it is important for high school students to be equipped with not only the necessary technical skills but also an understanding of the pitfalls and shortcomings so they become responsible data scientists.”

Off to a Promising Start
With classes already underway, the pilot of this new program is off to an excellent start, “due mostly to the very effective, very dedicated teachers,” says Crooks. “A key goal of this first year was to get teachers excited about the vision for the course and to find ways to help them adapt this vision to their own students.” Artis enthusiastically agrees. “I think the format of this course is truly unique. It’s really designed to be culturally relevant, using the students’ everyday experiences and embedding them into the classroom.”

Artis, Crooks and Singh regularly check in with the teachers and plan to evaluate the curriculum midway through the school year and again at the end of the year, making adjustments where needed. The next phase of the award from Deloitte Foundation and Base 11 provides support for the UCI team to transition the summer training to a virtual approach and to build out a digital platform for the course materials so that more Cristo Rey high schools can introduce data analytics to students in low-resourced communities.

For more information about this work, contact Sharnnia Artis at

Shani Murray