Teaching Bits: A Resource for Teachers of Statistics

From the Literature on Teaching and Learning Statistics

Deborah J. Rumsey
The Ohio State University

Journal of Statistics Education Volume 10, Number 2 (2002), jse.amstat.org/v10n2/rumsey.html

Copyright © 2002 by the American Statistical Association, all rights reserved. This text may be freely shared among individuals, but it may not be republished in any medium without express written consent.

Research and Resources on Teaching and Learning Statistics

ASA Introduces Inference

SummaryInference is a new magazine of the American Statistical Association under consideration for regular publication. The ASA mission includes the promotion of the field of statistics to the general public. Inference is intended to assist in meeting this goal by promoting and advancing the distribution of general statistical information in a reader-friendly manner.”

While the main purpose of Inference is to educate the general public about statistics, this magazine could potentially be useful as a classroom resource. For example, the first article in the prototype version is called “Is Using a Car Phone Like Driving Drunk?”

You can access an electronic version of the prototype issue of Inference through the ASA website, at jse.amstat.org. ASA is asking for member feedback to help them determine if there is a desire for this type of magazine; your feedback may also help in the development of future issues.

“The First Issue of the Statistics Education Research Journal is Now Online”

Abstract “Statistics Education Research Journal (SERJ) is published by the International Association for Statistical Education to encourage research activity, advance knowledge about students’ attitudes, conceptions, and difficulties with regards to stochastical knowledge, and improving the teaching of statistics at all educational levels. It encourages the submission of quality papers, including research reports, theoretical or methodological analyses, literature surveys, thematic bibliographies, summaries of research papers and dissertations.”

The first issue of SERJ contains articles regarding sharing experiences in the training of researchers, summaries of presentations given at STRL-2, and other publication and conference information. SERJ can be accessed at: fehps.une.edu.au/F/s/curric/cReading/serj/index.html.

“Statistics Education and the Making Statistics More Effective in Schools of Business Conferences”

Thomas Love and David Hildebrand (2002), The American Statistician, 56, 107-112.

Abstract Since 1986, the Making Statistics More Effective in Schools of Business (MSMESB) conferences have gathered academics and interested parties from government and industry to improve the effectiveness of statistics in business and business schools. We focus on the impact of MSMESB on business statistics courses, textbooks, and software. We trace some of the MSMESB’s history and draw out some recommendations on which consensus seems clear. Finally, we describe some key challenges and opportunities for the future.

Teaching Ideas and Applications

“The Binomial and Hypergeometric Probability Distributions in Jury Selection”

Jude Sommerfield (2002), Teaching Statistics, 24, 38-42.

Abstract This article considers the composition of juries, asking whether this is representative of the general population from which juries were drawn. The binomial and hypergeometric distributions are used for probability calculations. Several example applications of both of these distributions are given, addressing racial, sex and age distributions in various cases.

“More Happy Returns to the Birthday Problem”

Michael Bedwell (2002), Teaching Statistics, 24, 43-45.

Abstract This article shows how the birthday problem can be used to introduce the exponential distribution.

“Using Consulting for Teaching Elementary Statistics”

John Truran and Anne Arnold (2002), Teaching Statistics, 24, 46-50.

Abstract Consulting in Statistics is usually deferred until at least near the end of a first degree, but this article shows how some aspects can be effectively taught to students in upper secondary or early tertiary courses in a way which reinforces their learning of standard basic concepts. We suggest that the existence of a real client adds a degree of realism not available in other ways, and emphasizes to students the importance of blending statistical calculations with meaningful communication.

“Spreadsheets as a Simulation Tool for Solving Probability Problems”

M. I. Ageel (2002), Teaching Statistics, 24, 51-54.

Abstract This article illustrates the use of spreadsheets as a simulation tool for solving a collection of probability problems.

“Classroom and Worksheet Activities across the Curriculum”

Doreen Connor and Peter Holmes (2002), Teaching Statistics, 24, 55-58.

Abstract This article shows how teachers can create useful classroom activities to underpin data-handling methods for pupils aged 7 - 19. We use the database of responses from the UK Census At School project that are available for pupils and teachers.

“An International Resource for Learning and Teaching”

Doreen Connor and Neville Davies (2002), Teaching Statistics, 24, 59-61.

Abstract This article compares the national curriculum data-handling specifications of the UK, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand and shows how data from the Census At School project can be used to enhance the data handling capabilities of pupils in these countries. These data can also provide enhanced opportunities for the integration of ICT into core curriculum activities. Some ideas to enable teachers of statistics to create classroom-teaching material with an international flavor are also provided.

“Web-based Project and Key Skills Work”

Doreen Connor, Neville Davies and Bradley Payne (2002), Teaching Statistics, 24, 62-65.

Abstract Pupils in England and Wales are increasingly being asked to undertake investigative-type work, be it the new compulsory projects in data-handling for GCSE Mathematics (age 14-16) or the key skills topic application of number. This article shows how teachers can generate realistic project scenarios using real data and produce indicative model solutions from the same data. The projects range from simple presentational problems for data, through hypothesis testing to complex modeling scenarios.

“Understanding Correlation”

A.V. Kharshikar and S. Kunte (2002), Teaching Statistics, 24, 66-67.

Abstract This article uses a simple counter-intuitive example to point out a common misinterpretation of correlation.

“Statistical Laboratories Using Minitab®, SPSS® and Excel®: A Practical Comparison”

Tania Prvan, Anna Reid and Peter Petocz (2002), Teaching Statistics, 24, 68-74.

Abstract This article discusses three statistical laboratories - on descriptive statistics, statistical inference and regression - for introductory statistics courses. They are presented in Minitab®, SPSS® and Excel®, three packages widely used in statistical education, and are available on the Web.

“Why Not Just Use a Formula?”

Kay Gilliland (2002), Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, 7, 510-521.

Abstract A discussion occurs as to the strength of hands-on learning in the classroom (vs. exclusive use of formulas).

“Writing Samples to Understand Mathematical Thinking”

Dianne Goldsby and Barbara Cozza (2002), Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, 7, 517-521.

Abstract This article focuses on student writing samples that demonstrate their methods and reasoning during problem solving activities. The teacher’s comments address her use of these writings to adapt classroom instruction and curriculum.

“Some Thoughts About Degrees of Freedom”

Gretchen Davis (2002), STATS, 33, 18-20.

Introduction Students in AP Statistics may be perplexed when the concept of degrees of freedom is introduced as the denominator in the calculation of the sample variance. It may be helpful to link what students already know about dimension and coordinate geometry to what they are learning about estimating parameters using statistical samples. This approach was suggested in the first section of the classis four-part article written by Helen Walker and published in the Journal of Educational Psychology in 1940.

“What’s the Score in the NFL?”

Robin Lock (2002), STATS, 33, 25-27.

Introduction Scoring patterns in American football games are unique since the most common methods of scoring points, a touchdown (with a kicked extra point) and a field goal, yield seven and three points, respectively. Other scoring possibilities, a two-point safety, a two-point conversion after a touchdown, or six points for a touchdown with a missed conversion, are fairly rare. Thus, a score such as 14-10 is much more likely than an 11-5 game. Participants in various sorts of football pools, in which many students and teachers of statistics may indulge, are often asked to predict individual game scores or choose game outcomes that depend on the margins of victory. Would a statistical examination of past game results help us make more reasonable forecasts of future football outcomes?

“How Faithful is Old Faithful? Statistical Thinking: A Story of Variation and Prediction”

J. Michael Shaughnessy and Maxine Pfannkuch (2002), Mathematics Teacher, 95, 252-259.

Abstract In this article data from Old Faithful geyser are introduced to highlight the important role that variation should play in our teaching of statistics. Our past teaching may have overemphasized the role of centers to the neglect of issues of spread and variability.

“Winning Games in Canadian Football: A Logistic Regression Analysis”

Keith Willoughby (2002), The College Mathematics Journal [Online], May, 2002. www.maa.org/pubs/cmj_may02.html

Abstract To win football games, avoid interceptions and not recovering fumbles. Statistics show, though, that interceptions are much more important. Fumble freely, but throw passes accurately!

“Anatomy of a Jury Challenge”

Joseph Kadane (2002), Chance, 15, 10-13.

Summary Kadane presents the statistical argument from a jury challenge in the case of Zolo Azania, a man convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

“Sampling Mailrooms for Presence of Anthrax Spores: A Curious Property of the Hypergeometric Distribution Under an Unusual Hypothesis Testing Scenario”

Paul Levy, Jason Hsia, Borko Jovanovic, and Douglas Passaro (2002), Chance, 15, 19-21.

Summary Levy and colleagues discuss a curious property of the hypergeometric distribution and its relevance in choosing sample sizes and testing hypotheses within the context of sampling mailrooms for anthrax.

“If Placebo Works, Could, Should, or Would it be Approved for Marketing?”

Eugene Laska, and Paul Leber (2002), Chance, 15, 22-29.

Summary The authors address questions about the presence of placebo effects, the FDA’s role in setting regulatory requirements, and the ethics of using placebos.


Book Review: Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists, by Joel Best (2001), University of California Press.

Grace Chan and Russell Lenth (2002), The American Statistician, 56, 156.

Selected Quotes "Damned Lies and Statistics is written for all good citizens. These include government officials and social activists who create, present, and use statistics to support their argument; journalists who report statistics; and the general public who are influenced by statistics when they make decisions or vote.

"On the whole, this is a very interesting and useful book for everyone. It offers a useful perspective and could make for excellent supplementary reading in a 'statistics and society' course for liberal arts majors."

Book Review: Statistical Thinking: Improving Business Performance, by Roger Hoerl and Ronald Snee (2001), Brooks/Cole Thompson Learning.

Robert Gould (2002), The American Statistician, 56, 157.

Selected Quotes "The business of this book is business. If you are looking for a book to teach general introductory statistics, or even introductory statistics for economics, students, then this is not your book. Many business statistics books, in my opinion, differ from the standard introductory texts only in that they are garnished with business-related examples. Hoerl and Snee, on the other hand, offer a book completely immersed in the business paradigm. So much so, in fact, that perhaps they teach more business than statistics."

Book Review: Teaching Statistics, Resources for Undergraduate Instructors, by Thomas Moore (2001), Washington, DC: The Mathematical Association of America and the American Statistical Association.

Thomas Short (2002), The American Statistician, 56, 157-158.

Selected Quotes "How will this collection of essays change the way I teach my undergraduate statistics courses? How will [they] change the way nonstatisticians teach undergraduate statistics? I am pleased to report that the answers to both questions are 'for the better!' ... Teaching Statistics represents many voices in statistics education: leaders of the reform movement, statisticians who are now established and respected instructors and education researchers, and nonstatisticians who are enjoying their explorations of the differences between statistics and mathematics. Though not technical, this volume is educational for anyone who teaches introductory and undergraduate statistics.”

Book Review: Statistics in Plain English, by Timothy Urdan (2001), Lawrence Erlbaum Association.

T.J. Vogelsang (2002), The American Statistician, 56, 158.

Vogelsang gives a positive review of this book, saying that it “delivers the promise implied by the title. Indeed, this book does come close to explaining basic statistical methods in simple intuitive language. ... It is meant to serve as a supplement to a more mathematically rigorous (but perhaps harder to read) statistics text. Within the context of that goal, this is a useful little book.”

Deborah J. Rumsey
Director, Mathematics and Statistics Learning Center
Department of Mathematics
The Ohio State University
231 West 18th Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210

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