The Pompom Olympics: Fostering Data Literacy and Mathematical Thinking in Grade 2

in Spring 2024 by

This data science initiative is inspiring… it also helps kids become data literate, which is something they need in this world…even little kids need to prepare to become data literate.

–Jo Boaler, Math professor, Stanford University, author of books on research-based, effective strategies for teaching math

We need to shift from an emphasis on computational proficiency to meaning and estimation, from an emphasis on individual practice to an emphasis on discussion and ideas, reasoning, and solution strategies.

–Deborah Loewenberg Ball, professor of Education at University of Michigan, award winning researcher

Math at Park is constantly evolving and changing based on the needs of the students, current research on best practices, and through collaboration with invested teachers. Students arrive at Park with varying exposure to math. Ensuring that all students learn new and exciting content is paramount for building enthusiasm for math and life-long learners. Park’s primary goal is for students to leave the Lower Division as flexible mathematical thinkers who love the subject. The need for data literacy has become increasingly important in today’s world. Reading, analyzing, and drawing conclusions from a graph is a lifelong skill. 

Most second-grade math curricula cover data by asking students to create a few different types of graphs (bar graph, line plot, pictograph) and answer basic questions about these graphs. At Park, we decided to supplement our data and measurement units so that students could have an exciting, novel experience collecting data, estimating and measuring the distances with various tools, and then analyzing the data they collected. To accomplish this, we piloted The Pompom Olympics this year.

In the Pompom Olympics, students participated in four “Olympic” events: Shot Putt Slider, Catapult Caster, Racket Ringer, and Straw Shooter. Through hands-on learning, the second graders projected pompoms across the room, estimated the distance the pompom flew, and measured the distance in feet or inches. The students were asked to measure distances significantly longer than the tools (measuring tape, meter sticks) and needed to problem-solve how to do this. When adding the inches from each tool, students could practice a significant amount of mental math. Students proudly shared when their estimation was very close to the distance the pompom traveled. 

The Pompom Olympics was a multi-disciplinary project involving the PE department and Elaine Hamilton in the Makerspace. Since second graders will be working on racket sports in PE, the PE department teamed up with The Makerspace to decorate and glue the rackets. 

After collecting and organizing the data, students worked in teams to analyze the data collected for one event. The students’ ability to draw conclusions from the data was impressive. When asked how many people participated in their event, one student wrote, “28 students. I know that because I counted how many people were there on the data (2 people were missing that day).” One group had a complex fractional problem to solve when finding the range of their data set: 18-7 ½. The group proudly shared their solution of 10 ½ feet! Students were also asked to predict how far another second grader’s pompom may fly if they tried that event. One student wrote, “They will either get 11 or 12 [feet]. 11 is the highest number, and 12 is the second highest.” One student wondered, “How many more people would do the racket ringer if it was a real event?” 

Being able to analyze data to make predictions requires strong critical thinking skills. Each second grader enjoyed rocketing pompoms and felt a sense of accomplishment when presenting their findings to the class.