Class Activities

Teaching data analytics has been a passion for years, and I find it both challenging and rewarding to make abstract ideas concrete and engaging. Analytics topics require serious hard work. Students, even the brightest and the most committed, need to be motivated properly. My coursework tends to be full of mathematical equations, or abstract symbols. To make these topics easier to understand, remember, and recall, I have designed many activities to engage students in class by designing props, hands-on activities, and exercises that bring abstract ideas to life.

In-class Engagement with Chocolate

My favorite teaching prop is chocolate. There are so many ways to make abstract ideas concrete using chocolate. For example, when I taught normalization in database management, I always asked students to set up candy shops and update transactions in a poorly designed database. These exercises helped students physically experience the headaches of bad database design, and discover logical ways to improve the design, all the while enjoying the chocolate treats they were trading, as illustrated below! Instructions for how to run this exercise are available here:

Chocolate jars are great for demonstrating sampling, binomial distribution, Gini impurity index, and many other mathy concepts. For example, students are always very happy to compute variance of a binomial variable, or the Gini Impurity Index, using the chocolate jars illustrated below.

When teaching the decision tree algorithms, I would bring the following chocolate tree to the classroom so the entire class can split the nodes and compute each node’s Gini Impurity Index manually together.

Teaming Data Analysis with Real Estate Data

Although chocolate is my favorite prop, I also enjoy teaching with real estate data and have developed a series of in-class activities using data collected from Zillow that students have always enjoyed. I have presented these activities in the teaching track of the SIGDSA symposium in 2021. These ideas have also been featured on the Studio for Teaching & Learning Innovation site at William & Mary.

Single Neuron Simulator

I also love building gadgets to illustrate the inner workings of seemingly complex topics, such as neural networks. I have designed and used this Single Neuron Simulator to explain how neural networks and learning algorithms in general work with great success. Materials on how to introduce students to neural networks using the Single Neuron Simulator are available here.