Bethel Park High School students in the Big Data Analytics Class were winners in the Best Use of External Data category in the first-ever Police Data Challenge, sponsored by the American Statistical Association.
Winning the competition were seniors Elise Bermudez and Alaina Cerro, and junior Sean Conroy. Over 70 teams, including 20 high schools, participated in this nation-wide contest for high school and college undergraduate students, which allowed them to demonstrate their statistical and data visualization skills for the purpose of enhanced public safety.
Students had the opportunity to select either the Baltimore, Cincinnati or Seattle Police Departments to study, and the Bethel Park students chose the Baltimore Police Department. Through data analysis, the students focused on a variety of aspects, including the top 10 common crimes, the times of day the crimes were committed, the times of the year where crime was most prevalent, and the frequency of specific crimes. The students plotted all 911 calls on a city map, creating a visual picture to determine the neighborhoods where crime was most prevalent.
For the contest, they submitted PowerPoint slides to explain their methods, findings, analysis and recommendations in 500 words or less. The entries were judged by a panel of statisticians, academics and researchers who evaluated the presentations on the basis of quality, data assessment and any implicit biases.
As winners in the contest, the students received an Amazon gift card, t-shirts, membership in the ASA and bragging rights.
The students used the model that they employ for the annual Big Data competitions that are held each spring, which includes what teacher Lee Cristofano terms "a deep dive into data analysis to see how it impacts what the students are looking to solve."
The students in the Big Data class all participated in the exercise, working in small groups of three to five students, and they were able to share their findings with the team who submitted the entry. They liked the fact that they were working on a real-world problem and they hope that the Baltimore Police Department will be able to use their findings to help reduce crime. They also hope that their findings will encourage other police departments to look into data as they determine how to best address crime in their cities as well.
This is the second year that Bethel Park High School has offered a class in Big Data/Data Analytics. It was created in response to a presentation several years ago by the Pittsburgh Dataworks Project, which encourages students to consider pursuing careers as data scientists and learning about all of the ways that data impacts their lives, personally as well as professionally. The class is taught by Science Teacher Lee Cristofano and Marketing Teacher Emily Smoller. Funding for the creation of the class was provided via a grant from the Sprout Fund, and also includes a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University.