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A New Way for the DonorsChoose.org Team to Discover Trends


Guest bloggers Pranav Badami, Lorena De La Parra Landa, Elya Pardes, Lex Spirtes, and Michael Zhang are Data Scientists at CKM Advisors, and they recently wrapped up a project helping our team discover new trends in what teachers across the country need.

Two students study on a donated computer

If you’ve followed DonorsChoose.org over the last 18 years, you know they pride themselves on being a data-driven nonprofit. Every time a teacher posts a project, DonorsChoose.org gets a new piece of data on what materials and experiences students and teachers need most. Understanding any underlying trends in these classroom project requests is crucial to DonorsChoose.org’s mission to support students, teachers and schools.That is exactly what we – five Data Scientists from the CKM Advisors Pro Bono Team* – focused on during the first four months of 2018. We teamed up with DonorsChoose.org’s Data Science team to identify the hidden trends in the past 10 years of classroom requests. Sixteen weeks of hard work later, TrendFinder was born.

Meet TrendFinder

TrendFinder is a self‐sufficient, interactive business intelligence dashboard built to detect and analyze historic and real‐time trends. In plain English, it’s a tool that identifies and explores DonorsChoose.org’s projects and resource trends. We won’t go into detail on TrendFinder’s detection algorithm, but if you are interested in learning more about the technical details, check out: “TrendFinder: How we developed a “trend detection” BI tool for DonorsChoose.org”.Once TrendFinder finds a trend, it also provides a general overview (which includes economic need, grade level, subject, and metro area percentages), a demographic and geographic breakdown, a set of co‐occurring words, and a comparison to Google Trends. TrendFinder allows the user to create a story about each identified trend.For example, in March of 2018, TrendFinder recognized that the word wrinkle was trending. Further investigation revealed that the word was echoing the February movie release of A Wrinkle in Time. Similar to this, by digging deeper into past projects, we found other keyword trends related to the movies Black Panther, Frozen, and Bully. In other words, TrendFinder is able to pick up on cultural trends that are infiltrating the classroom.To find out more about recent trends, TrendFinder’s complete functionality, and what we ended up calling the “Big 3” trends from the last 10 years of education (iPads, Chromebooks, and flexible seating) check out: “TrendFinder: Educational Trends from the Past Decade”.

The Bottom Line

We had a lot of fun during this project. We learned a lot about education, the geographic differences in schools, sport seasonality, and fads. But what we are most excited about is how DonorsChoose.org will use TrendFinder. Every two weeks, interested team members will receive a list of trending words from the previous two weeks. This information will then lead the DonorsChoose.org team to make data‐driven decisions like helping vendors make inventory decisions, identifying emerging trends, and even suggesting projects to new DonorsChoose.org teachers.We can’t wait to hear how TrendFinder evolves in the hands of DonorsChoose.org!*CKM Advisors is a New York‐based data science firm focused on providing technology solutions to clients globally. Its mission is to help clients leverage their data to mi gate risks, improve productivity, increase revenue, and reduce costs. The goal of CKM Advisors’ Pro Bono Team is to support social justice organizations by providing CKM’s technical skills and expertise. Active team members for this project: Pranav Badami, Lorena De La Parra Landa, Elya Pardes, Lex Spirtes, and Michael Zhang.

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