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Harvard Graduate Transforms High School Math Curriculum

Skew The Script, a nonprofit organization, provides free, socially-relevant math + statistics lessons to high school teachers across the country

Before receiving his master's degree in data science from Harvard University in 2021, Dashiell (Dash) Young-Saver (A.B. '16, Harvard University) taught AP Statistics at a Title I school on the southside of San Antonio. The school was in a district in which only 2% of students historically pass the AP exam.

Dash teaching in his high school classroom.

Dash started the school year by using problems from the textbook, which covered data on heights and weights, battery longevity, and contexts like, “Bob has 58 watermelons…” He watched as, one by one, his students’ heads would fall to their desks. Their disengagement made sense – many of the students worked jobs outside of school, supported their siblings, and dealt with pressing, real problems in their daily lives. To them, these contrived problems from the textbook were uncompelling – even infantilizing.

Dash realized he needed to take a different approach – one that would demonstrate the actual usefulness of math and statistics in real-life contexts. Abandoning the traditional course curriculum, he focused his lessons on topics that his students were interested in, such as gerrymandering, food deserts, online dating, sports, and more.

Dash’s lessons became impactful, applicable, and worthwhile for his students who were now excited to come to class and learn how statistics could help them better understand the subjects and issues they were passionate about. Simply addressing the common question “When am I ever going to use this?” proved to be a catalyst for his students’ success.

That year, more students at the school took and passed the AP Exam than in the previous 16 years combined. Additionally, his students’ IB Math exam pass rate became the highest ever on an IB STEM exam in the district.

After two years of teaching, Dash pursued his master’s degree at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard, during which he created a website called Skew The Script (named after his class’s motto) that shared his socially relevant statistics lessons. The lessons went viral among the high school teacher community and reached 20,000 classrooms within two years.

During his time in the master’s data science program, Dash created global temperature graphs for an AP Statistics lesson with the help of HDSI Faculty Affiliate Peter Huybers. This type of support he received from faculty enabled Dash to deepen the rigor of Skew The Script’s course material.

Some of Skew The Script’s lessons incorporate elementary machine learning principles, which Dash learned in artificial intelligence (AI) courses taught by Harvard instructors Pavlos Protpapas and Weiwei Pan. Dash also credits the Skew The Script curriculum as a whole to the statistical grounding provided in statistics courses taught by Professors Joe Blitzstein and HDSI Faculty Affiliate Iavor Bojinov.

Now, Skew The Script is a nonprofit organization that offers free lessons for AP Statistics, Algebra I, Algebra II, and Precalculus – all of which are data-infused, nonpartisan, and socially relevant. Its mission is to improve engagement and achievement in math, especially among underserved student groups, while preparing all students to be active critical thinkers and use math reasoning as citizens.

Since launching, Skew The Script has impacted over 400,000 students across the country, and the organization hopes to expand its reach to 2 million students in the next 3 years, continuing to build upon the profound influence Dash’s lessons had on his class in his first year as a math teacher.

“Sure, the lessons helped me understand math better. But they also made me realize that I can use math and data to dig deep into real issues – stuff I actually care about,” said Julius Cervantes, one of Dash’s former students from Burbank High School. “That’s when I decided to go to college and to major in data science.”

The accomplishments of Dash’s students demonstrated the importance of transforming the conventional math curriculum into socially relevant lessons. Skew The Script lessons have enabled students to leave the classroom more informed, empowered, and equipped to use critical thinking skills in real-world situations.

Learn more about Skew The Script:

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