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The Making of a First-Grade Data Hound

My son’s first-grade teacher recently held an open house to tell the parents what their kids will be learning this year, and how they’ll be going about it. I have to say, it was pretty impressive. My favorite part had to do with turning the kids into first-grade (if not first-rate) empiricists.

The teacher, a wonderful veteran from Texas named Barbara, described an upcoming project: collecting data on some or all of the 22 playgrounds in Central Park.

First, the kids will vote on their favorite and least favorite playgrounds in the park. Then they will collect data on a variety of metrics: number of swings, amount of open space, shady vs. sunny areas, etc. Then they will try to figure out the factors that make a good playground good and a bad playground bad. They will also consider the safety of each playground, and other measures.

We did not do this kind of project when I was in first grade; frankly, I am envious.

I recently played a game with my kids in Central Park that is along these same lines. We sat on one of our favorite rocks overlooking the Loop, a six-mile road that runs through the park, and I asked if they thought there were more runners or cyclists going past. Both kids were certain that there were more cyclists — perhaps because, since the cyclists are so much faster than the runners, they make more of an impression. So we made a little bet (I took runners, they took cyclists), and started counting to see which would pass us first: 100 runners or 100 cyclists. I won, but not by much: 100-87.

That was early on a weekday evening. But a few days later, we played the same game on a weekend morning. The kids stuck to their guns and picked cyclists. This time they were right: the cyclists blew away the runners. I guess there are a lot of people who aren’t willing to unpack their bikes for a weekday evening ride, especially as the days are getting shorter, but are willing to go to the trouble on a weekend morning. It was a good lesson for all of us, and it has us on the lookout for other things to measure.

What fun and games do you all employ to help make your kids reality-aware?