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Lessons for Teaching Data Literacy

Competence in data literacy is an essential skill for success in an increasing number of fields and a key soft skill that employers seek when making hiring decisions. Lessons in the Data Literacy Series can be used by university and school faculty and staff to teach students how to reliably identify, interpret, and communicate data. Each lesson reviews data interpretation, analysis, and/or presentation concepts in detail, and is written in an accessible manner to be used by teachers, instructors, and librarians from any field or background.

Data Methods:

Analyzing the Elements of Real GDP in FRED Using Stacking

This online activity shows how to use FRED, the Federal Reserve's free online economic data website, to analyze changes in real gross domestic product (GDP) and GDP makeup over time. Following simple instructions, you will locate spending data for the individual components of real GDP, and then combine them into a highly informative area graph. You will also use FRED's ability to stack data and see how trade—imports and exports—contributes to GDP. The resulting customized graph will let you see how economic output varies from year to year.

•  Lesson (pdf)

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The Composition Effect

Students evaluate unemployment data from different racial and ethnic groups to determine how accurately the national rate of unemployment describes the labor market experiences of different groups of workers. Through a guided discussion and review of data, students learn how to identify the composition effect and why it is important to take it into account when describing a diverse group with a single statistic.

•  Lesson (pdf)

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Fractile v. Equal Lesson for Grades 7-10

Students work with data that represent the ages of 24 people to learn the difference between categorizing data in fractile intervals and equal intervals. Students discuss dividing bonus points among class members to understand what per capita means. Then students look at per capita personal income by state using the GeoFRED mapping tool. They compare per capita personal income displayed with data in equal intervals and with data in fractile intervals.

•  Lesson (pdf)

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What is Unemployment, How is it Measured, and Why Does the Fed Care? Lesson for Grades 7-10

In this lesson, students read and interpret choropleth maps, which contain unemployment data. They compare verbal descriptions of the labor market from the Federal Reserve's Beige Book with the mapped data. In addition, students compare unemployment data for different years. Students access or observe how to access this data online.

•  Lesson (pdf)

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FRED Interactives:

FRED Interactive: Comparative Advantage

Students compare manufacturing unit labor costs across countries. These costs help us quantify the comparative advantage of the United States relative to other countries.

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FRED Interactive: Data Citations

Students learn to use the metadata in FRED® to create good data citations.

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FRED Interactive: Information Literacy

Students practice information literacy skills related to three threshold concepts: Searching as strategic exploration, information has value, and research as inquiry.

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FRED Interactive: Nominal and Real Wages

Students compare the nominal value of the federally mandated minimum wage with its inflation-adjusted real value.

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Data and ACRL* Information Literacy Frames

Data Literacy: Adjusting for Population

Through a guided discussion and review of data focused on volunteerism in the United States, students learn how to convert absolute numbers into per capita measures by adjusting for population. They also learn why such adjustments are necessary to make valid comparisons among groups. Using GeoFRED and other sources, students learn how to identify and assess the credibility of data.

•  Lesson (pdf)

•  PowerPoint (pptx)

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Keeping It Real: Teach ACRL Information Literacy Frames with FRED Data

This lesson plan is designed to supplement the “FRED Interactive: Information Literacy” online course available through

•  Lesson (pdf)

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* Association of College & Research Libraries

Data Visualization:

Data Visualization Modules on Econ Lowdown

In the Data Visualization series on Econ Lowdown, students learn about the basics of data interpretation and visualization from short video tutorials. Each tutorial is followed by a quiz to assess student understanding of the specific data topic.

Teachers: Visit the Data Visualization series in our Econ Lowdown Teacher Portal. Once you are logged in, go to the Resource Gallery and filter by “Subject: Data Literacy” to easily find and preview the Data Visualization lessons.

Historical Inquiry with Charts Toolkit

Historians are experts at assessing and analyzing documents to build a narrative but may be stymied by numbers. Charts (tables, graphs, maps, diagrams, and so on) provide a graphical view of information and can be a powerful way to display evidence. This toolkit provides a series of resources for students to read, interpret, and think critically about charts in textbooks and historical documents. It has three main parts: (i) the Glossary of Charts Terms, (ii) the Glossary of Chart Types, and (iii) Historical Inquiry Questions for Charts. It also includes a suggested procedure for how to use the Toolkit. Keep the Toolkit resources bookmarked to use each time you come across a chart for study.

•  Toolkit (pdf)

•  Glossary of Charts Terms (pdf)

•  Glossary of Chart Types (pdf)

•  Historical Inquiry Questions for Charts (pdf)

•  More about the Historical Inquiry with Charts Toolkit »

Posters of Key Economic Data, by State

These classroom-ready posters show how two free data tools—FRED and GeoFRED—give students the latest insights into real world employment, earnings, and education.

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Tools for Teaching with FRED

Tools for Teaching with GeoFRED