The big idea I hope the students come away with is that; in gathering data connections way be obscured by the expression of the data. Standardizing the expression can reveal otherwise obscure connections.
So last year I replaced the Native American bead activity with the following activity.
1 Journal on the question "What do you think Lincoln's speech at Gettysburg was about"?
2 Do a wordle using the Gettysburg Address' original text. Note the standout words and themes from the original text. Revisit your journal entry. Save the wordle.
3 Massage the data of the original text by (a) identifying themes in the words of the texts for example "final resting place", "gave their lives", "last full measure of devotion", "dead", "died", and "perish" all have in common that they in some way reference death. Other themes can be identified, life/birth and consecration/dedication. (b) Replace the words used to express the themes with common word identifying the theme; the 6 examples, listed above, expressing the theme of death would each be replaced with the word death. Hence the "death" would appear now 6 times. Similar replacements should be made for each identified theme. Question in discussion whether the substitutions change the essential meaning of the speech
4 Create a wordle using the "massaged" text. Compare it to the original wordle. Revisit journal entries regarding the meaning of the speech.
5 Journal the question "If the essential meaning of the speech was unchanged why did new meanings and themes appear after the substitutions?"
The student's historical and artistic background for the Native American bead activity will be very slight. The discussion of symmetry is very condensed. The connection between the symmetric figures and their meaning is fleetingly touched upon in the discussion. Unaddressed these 3 problems stand in the way of a student's appreciation of the use of computers to represent data and to discover meanings in that representation. On the other hand, the American Civil War and Lincoln are topics touched on in elementary school social studies and again in secondary school. The identification of themes involving common English words and a few graphic phrases is likely to be more accessible than stylized icons of animals and cultural themes of Native American art. The act of adjusting representation into computer analyzable data is at least as obvious in rewording as it is in designing abstract digital images. The concept of mathematical symmetry is indeed lost in the rewording activity but symmetry should not be considered central to the goal of identifying "the mathematical connections in the output of [data analysis] tools". Focusing heavily on it, as a student would have to, in the beads activity could skewer the student's understanding of data analysis. The student could well have a take away that sees geometric symmetry as essential to data analysis.
I understand that there is a loss to cultural identification in the reworking of the activity at this point and will find another activity in which it can be legitimately included.