An update from our podcast guest, Martin Samuels. He has recently accepted a position at Brandeis University serving as Program
Episode 12: Statistics In Schools with Victoria Glasier & Jessica Palmer
Victoria Glasier, Chief of Statistics in Schools, and Jessica Palmer, Management and Program Analyst with Statistics in Schools (SIS) bring school subjects to life using real–world U.S. Census Bureau statistics to create materials for K-12 students. The SIS site includes engaging resources and activities in Social Studies, Math, English, Geography, Sociology, and more. Statistics In Schools is designed by teachers for teachers, and the resources are easily customized and completely free.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Nati Rodriguez [00:42]
I’m very excited to learn more about this topic and trends around teaching statistics, as we all know, data is everywhere. The ability to understand and use data is an essential skill for understanding the world around us. I’m very excited to learn more about this topic and trends around teaching statistics, as we all know, data’s everywhere, and the ability to understand and use data is an essential skill for understanding the world around us. Welcome, Jessica and Victoria.
Nati Rodriguez [02:16]
Well, I’d love to start with, why statistics?
Jessica Palmer [02:20]
If you really think about it, statistics and data are all around us. We can check the weather or even statistics for our favorite sports team at the touch of a button. We try to show teachers that for all grade levels and subjects, there is cool data out there. Not to mention the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that statistics-related jobs are on the rise and the job outlook is 33%, which is much faster than average. Our goal is to help prepare students for a data-driven world.
Victoria Glasier [02:49]
One of our goals is just to show teachers and everyone that statistics is a scary word and a mouthful, but it’s not just high school math. I’d like to give an example of my son that he probably hates, but math was such a struggle for him, he didn’t like it. He didn’t like it every year. We would just struggle through that class. He’d be the first one to come to me every Sunday to give me stats for his favorite football team.
Lately, he likes to talk about how Top Gun versus the Marvel movie is doing. I tell him, “You are doing Math.”
There’s so many places and that it’s not a scary thing. There are cool ways to incorporate it to help our students build those data literacy skills.
Nati Rodriguez [03:35]
That’s a great point. When I think of statistics, I think of high school and college. I’m curious Vicki, how early can, or do students start getting exposure that would be useful long term?
Victoria Glasier [03:47]
That’s one of our missions too. We’ll talk more about it. From kindergarten on, we can do cool things. We can show how many other kindergarteners are in your state or we can lead you through a simple survey in your class, just from simple bar charts to things that kids can relate to, and further up through the years, as they’re learning different things in all kinds of subjects. There’s something statistical that can support it. I wish we had a different word than statistics.
Nati Rodriguez [04:19]
That’s a great point. It does sound a little intimidating and your idea of just surveying – kids love to hear what their peers think. That seems like a very easy entry point for K-12 to get into statistics. I’m curious about your website, who uses it, and what kind of materials are available to those that access it?
Jessica Palmer [04:41]
We have a lot of great resources on our website for educators from K-12. We have fun facts activities, which are based off of our Census Bureau Facts for Features, which is more of a higher-level thing that’s easy for students to understand. These are mainly centered around holidays, special observances, and heritage months. Just to highlight a few of our most popular activities, we have an elementary school activity that teachers love called, “Where’s Gina the Geographer.” It gives students a bunch of clues and they use one of our data tools called State Facts for Students and they help solve a mystery of where Gina is in the United States.
[5:21] US Census Fact 1: Did you know? States with the oldest populations include Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. States with the youngest populations include Alaska, Utah and Texas.
Nati Rodriguez [05:32]
How do educators find out about SIS? It seems like a great resource!
Jessica Palmer [05:37]
We have a couple of different avenues. We have an ambassador program, which is a collaborative effort between educators, librarians, and the U.S. Census Bureau to get the word out about the program and get it to other colleagues as well. We also do have a monthly newsletter and emails that we send out each month with resources available.
Victoria Glasier [05:56]
I was just going to add that we recently partnered with Kahoot and that’s been a lot of fun for us because that definitely has put the focus on, how can we pull out the interesting data. We just recently put up a game called Fireworks and Road Trips: Slide into Summer with Census Data. We’re going to have future games on Hispanic Heritage month and STEM careers. We went live with that this year and we’ve had over 110,000 players in the United States, and Canada, and the United Kingdom. It’s a fun way to get your 12-question quiz to learn about facts in the United States.
Nati Rodriguez [06:42]
That sounds great. I love Kahoot. The song is catchy.
[06:44] Did you know? There were a total of 63 zoos and botanical gardens in California in 2020.
Nati Rodriguez [6:52]
What are your thoughts on the debate around statistics versus calculus as a path towards college?
Jessica Palmer [07:00]
To be completely honest, I don’t actually know much about that debate, the statistics versus calculus. I can speak to statistics being that we are the U.S. Census Bureau and why they are important. As Vicki mentioned previously, it is imperative to work with children at a young age, not just high school and beyond, to get them familiarized with charts and numbers to help strengthen their statistical literacy. This is why we have our program. It’s so beneficial to get students involved at a young age and using real-life relevant data, not just the made-up data from textbooks.
Nati Rodriguez [07:40]
Yeah, that’s really important. I’m also curious how comfortable teachers are that may not have the background, either in accessing these resources or teaching it in their classrooms? When I think about elementary school, a teacher is responsible for teaching all subjects, right? Sometimes these areas can be intimidating for an educator, let alone for students. What support is available for the educator to feel more comfortable leading their classroom on these topics?
Victoria Glasier [08:06]
For each activity and for our fun facts, we do everything we can to provide teaching guides and topics taught, and skills taught. We try very much to target what they’re doing in the classroom to just supplement what they already have going on. There shouldn’t have to be a whole lot of stress going into it. For example, Jessica mentioned the State Facts. We target 3rd to 5th graders because we know they’re learning about their state and it’s a very easy interface. We’ve got six activities that support it. Kids can learn fun things about dentists’ office or candy makers. They can look at the number of kids, their age in their state. They can go to other states and compare it. They can learn historical information about what it looked like ten years ago. Again, back to that statistics being a scary word; we’ve given tips and tricks and worked with teachers to create this program. In doing that, we’ve tried to make it as easy as possible.
[9:03] Did you know? Texas had the most amusement parks in the country in 2020 with 71.
Nati Rodriguez [09:09]
You shared the exploring 1950 Census Fun Facts – that sounded really interesting. Can you talk about that?
Victora Glasier [09:16]
The Census Bureau recently released data from the 1950 Census. Census records are confidential for 72 years. After 72 years they’re released. There was a lot of fanfare. There’s people that can look up their family name and then find out things about grandparents or whoever. I know Bob Ross, the artist, certain famous people that anybody can go and see what they’re doing.
We know jobs are changing, but just to really see that. We started back then collecting job data when someone was 14. Just the age, right now we’re late twenties for marriage, but then it was, late teens, early twenties. I am [not] a statistician, but that kind of thing is just about our society and our country and how things have changed. It’s just fascinating.
Nati Rodriguez [10:13]
Yeah. I’m still stuck on the 72 years. Why 72?
Victoria Glasier [10:18]
For my length of time at the Census Bureau, that’s always been one of those things. A lot of people think it’s lifetime, right? Like you won’t be around after 72 years, but that’s not actually it. I actually don’t know that we know for sure where those 72 years came from, but it’s very cool. You should go in and check it out. It’s very easy. The more the data has been out there, the more other companies make it easier. There are teams of people that go through and try to make it easier for people to search. One of the things I’m actually going to miss, because it was still handwritten up until this census, where it was online, so you can still see the handwriting of either the person in your family or the census taker.
Nati Rodriguez [11:06]
You mentioned that some of these are handwritten. As a user, if I go on the site, I can look through old records that are handwritten, how does that work?
Victoria Glasier [11:15]
You definitely can. Once the census is done, we hand over our records to National Archives. That is where you would go to find the information you’re looking for and it’s pretty prevalent on their site. You can go in and you can type in last name or anything you know, a state, or a residence to try drill down to finding who you’re looking for.
[11:39] Did You Know? There were 427 ice cream and frozen dessert in the United States in 2020.
Nati Rodriguez [11:48]
Wow. That’s really fascinating. You mentioned they can look up their family or their ancestry?
Victoria Glasier [11:54]
Yes. I was looking up my family, and just to be able to see my parents and their relatives, before they were my parents, before they met each other. It is very interesting. Sometimes people find surprises or things they weren’t expecting. A lot of people also use the U.S. Census Records to verify that they were born and to get a passport. A lot of people don’t think these were official records to document where people lived and what their house would look like.
Nati Rodriguez [12:27]
It reminds me when sometime in elementary, maybe middle school, we would do the family tree activity, but it would have been a much more enriching experience to have the data, right?
Victoria Glasier [12:37]
With the Fun Facts, we created a couple versions of a family tree activity just for that. That’s what we hope to do. You’re doing something in the classroom, but we can add to it with the data and make it that much more enriching.
Nati Rodriguez [12:51]
I’m curious, are there new activities coming down the pipeline that haven’t been released similar to that, supplements to what’s happening in the classroom?
Victoria Glasier [12:59]
We’re always creating new things, especially this year and moving forward. All of the data from the big 2020 census is coming out. We will be updating what we have and we’ll be creating new ones based on different stories that are going on, whether that’s in history or math. One of the activities that I find really interesting and this is for an elementary set. We talk about what names mean, and we do a narrative about reading books and just talking about people’s last names. Then, you look at the 1990 census, the 2000, the 2010, and then we will update it for 2020, but you really see in a very cool way because it’s in a name tag. You see how much things have changed from what the last names were, the top 20 last names in 1990, compared to 2010 and what they will be for 2020. So, everything we have we will be updating with the latest data.
Jessica Palmer [13:57]
Just to add to that really quick, coming up within the next few months, we’ll be updating our Back-to-School Fun Facts, Hispanic Heritage month Fun Facts and we’ll also have lots of cool Constitution Day resources for September.
Nati Rodriguez [14:10]
Thank you. Who is behind creating all of this great content besides you?
Victoria Glasier [14:14]
In creating this, we have teachers and we have the Census Bureau subject matter experts. We definitely wanted teachers on board, so we knew what we were doing would be relevant and useful in the classroom, and we have the Census Bureau. We had talked to some teachers before we started the program just to learn how they got information or what they did, but we were told the Census Bureau is gold and they knew. They didn’t always know what they were saying in the classroom in terms of using Google, but they knew if it came from the Census Bureau that it was pretty reliable. Just having the teachers along with our statisticians, we’ve been able to create some great things.
Nati Rodriguez [14:54]
That’s great. I know educators always love material that’s been created by their peers. So that’s awesome, that makes it relevant for the classroom.
[15:03] Did you know? About 7 out of 10 (70%) of people 14 and over were married in 1950. Today that is about half (50%) of people 14 and over.
Nati Rodriguez [15:13]
I’m curious how the pandemic and distance learning changed or impacted SIS in terms of the access to materials? On a separate note, if you could speak to just the experience of collecting the census during in 2020?
Victoria Glasier [15:29]
I know during the pandemic, we had to regroup because were doing some in-class lessons and things. We put together a teaching kit for caregivers and people at home. We also got really creative with Kahoot. We started thinking about things we could do virtually. Two other things that came from that that we’re still refining, but we’ve had some practice with, is virtual field trips where we’ll bring in the kids virtually and try to be really interactive with taking them through either their state. We have a couple of different things depending on the grade level and just showing them the kid-friendly data we have.
Another thing we’ve actually gotten a lot of requests for virtual experts, like Zoom an expert. We’ve had geographers come into the classroom or after-school clubs and answer activities. We’ve had people talk about the Census and how it’s done. We have something called the American Community Survey. Just a range of topics, everything from diversity and what our country looks like, to some more of the subject-specific things. We’ve been able to bridge that connection while we’ve been at home.
Nati Rodriguez [16:39]
Yeah, the virtual field trips I think, have really taken off in the last two years. Do you anticipate that will continue, now that most students are back in person?
Victoria Glasier [16:50]
I think absolutely. I mean, like you said, it’s taken off. I enjoy a museum or the zoo or the aquarium, like watching that. I think that’s something definitely we’re going to be building out in the years to come.
[17:03] Did you know? In 1950 – 6 percent of the population completed 4 years of college or more; in 2020 that percentage was 38%.
Nati Rodriguez [17:13]
One thing that I’ve seen in talking to organizations that have transitioned during distance learning, is the access to experts. All of a sudden. we can plug into these folks that can sit in for a class for 15-30 minutes, and students get exposure without having to leave the classroom. That’s a really great experience.
Victoria Glasier [17:32]
It is. It’s hard to talk about the positives from all of this, but that’s been something that’s been a change that I think has been successful. Just that, finding ways to interact with each other more than just getting on a plane and flying to a meeting.
Nati Rodriguez [17:50]
You mentioned the ambassador program. If a teacher and/or school site is interested in bringing the SIS program and materials to their school, what should they do?
Jessica Palmer [18:00]
So, they can reach out to us directly. We have more information about the ambassador program on our website, and it’s actually under our ‘About Section’ and ‘Partner with SIS’, they can reach out to our inbox and we can provide more information from there. As I mentioned previously as well, we send out quarterly newsletters to our ambassadors. In addition to that, we have monthly newsletters that are sent out to subscribers.
Nati Rodriguez [18:24]
Last question, I’m curious what you’re reading, watching, or listening to these days?
Jessica Palmer [18:29]
I know I’m probably late to the game, but I actually just finished reading Where the Crawdads Sing because the movie just came out. I’m hoping to get to theaters to see that soon. As far as shows, I am, as with I’m sure many other people, hooked on Stranger Things.
Victoria Glasier [18:49]
I am late to the party too. I just finished up Bridgerton and then I went over to Gilded Age. Those are both similar period pieces, which is fascinating. I love the costuming. With the Statistics in Schools staff, everybody’s telling me I need to do the Stranger Things, but it’s on my maybe list. Have you guys seen that?
Nati Rodriguez [19:12]
I have not seen Stranger Things, but I have read Where the Crawdads Sing and Bridgerton. I’ve watched. Season one at least, I haven’t seen the second one.
Thank you for your time today and for the work that you do. I’m sure our listeners and our educators will be excited to find out about what’s available on Statistics In Schools.
About the 1950 Census, we can peek into the lives of some of the famous Americans born during this time and who first appeared in census records in 1950. Some of these include: Jimi Hendrix, Annette Funicello, John Belushi, Muhammed Ali, Bob Ross, Arthur Ash, Janis Joplin.