30 September 2013

Those who can, teach statistics

The phrase I despise more than any in popular use (and believe me there are many contenders) is “Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach.” I like many of the sayings of George Bernard Shaw, but this one is dismissive, and ignorant and born of jealousy. To me, the ability to teach something is a step higher than being able to do it. The PhD, the highest qualification in academia, is a doctorate. The word “doctor” comes from the Latin word for teacher. Teaching is a noble profession, on which all other noble professions rest. Teachers are generally […]
23 September 2013

On-line learning and teaching resources

Twenty-first century Junior Woodchuck Guidebook I grew up reading Donald Duck comics. I love the Junior Woodchucks, and their Junior Woodchuck Guidebook. The Guidebook is a small paperback book, containing information on every conceivable subject, including geography, mythology, history, literature and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.  In our family, when we want to know something or check some piece of information, we talk about consulting the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook. (Imagine my joy when I discovered that a woodchuck is another name for a groundhog, the star of my favourite movie!) What we are referring to is the internet, the source […]
2 September 2013

Open Letter to Khan Academy about Basic Probability

Khan academy probability videos and exercises aren’t good either Dear Mr Khan You have created an amazing resource that thousands of people all over the world get a lot of help from. Well done. Some of your materials are not very good, though, so I am writing this open letter in the hope that it might make some difference. Like many others, I believe that something as popular as Khan Academy will benefit from constructive criticism. I fear that the reason that so many people like your mathematics videos so much is not because the videos are good, but because […]
6 May 2013

Teaching a service course in statistics

Teaching a service course in statistics Most students who enrol in an initial course in statistics at university level do so because they have to. I did some research on attitudes to statistics in my entry level quantitative methods course, and fewer than 1% of the students had chosen to be in that course. This is a little demoralising, if you happen to think that statistics is worthwhile and interesting. Teaching a service course in statistics is one of the great challenges of teaching. A “Service Course” is a course in statistics for students who are majoring in some other […]
15 April 2013

Good, Bad and Wrong: Videos about Confidence Intervals

Videos are useful teaching and learning resources There is much talk about “flipped classrooms” and the wonders of Khan Academy, YouTube abounds with videos about everything…really! Even television news reports show YouTube clips. Teachers and instructors use videos in their teaching, and get their students to watch them at home, ready to build on in class time. A well put-together video can provide a different way of looking at a problem that helps a student to learn. Videos are endlessly patient and can be paused and watched at the students’ pace. (See my earlier post on multimedia for a fuller […]
25 March 2013

Less is more

“Less is More” is a bit of a funny title for a mathematical blog! Garlic bread and Ice Cream Sundaes Back in the seventies, garlic bread became very popular in our household. I loved its buttery, salty, garlicky goodness, and made it quite often. One time I decided that if a little bit of garlic was yummy, then lots of garlic would be even more delicious. I was wrong! The garlic bread was barely edible, and the house and its occupants gave off a distinctive aroma for several days. More garlic did not mean “better”. From then on whenever I […]
18 March 2013

Confidence Intervals: informal, traditional, bootstrap

Confidence Intervals Confidence intervals are needed because there is variation in the world. Nearly all natural, human or technological processes result in outputs which vary to a greater or lesser extent. Examples of this are people’s heights, students’ scores in a well written test and weights of loaves of bread. Sometimes our inability or lack of desire to measure something down to the last microgram will leave us thinking that there is no variation, but it is there. For example we would check the weights of chocolate bars to the nearest gram, and may well find that there is no […]
11 March 2013

Twitter for educators

Why I love Twitter This post is about the What and Why of Twitter. I’ll leave more about the “How” for another day. Thanks to Priscilla Allan (whom I met on Facebook) for asking! I love Twitter. Given the choice between Facebook and Twitter, there is no competition. I once read a really good summary (in 140 characters) of the difference, but can’t find it. The essence is that on Facebook we lose friends we’ve had for years, whereas on Twitter we make friends with people we have never met. Twitter was there for me in the year of earthquake […]
20 February 2013

Statistical Story-telling with time series data

Statistics is about story-telling. For people who understand them, graphs tell a story. To the initiated, even a p-value, and some summary statistics can help to tell a story. Part of the role of a statistician is to extract the story from the data. The role of a statistics teacher is to enable students first to recognise that there is a story, then to enable them to tell the story through the tools of analysis and communication. This idea of statistics as story-telling is explained in an award-winning paper byPfannkuch, Regan, Wild and Horton,Telling Data Stories: Essential Dialogues for Comparative […]
11 February 2013

Excel, SPSS, Minitab or R?

I often hear this question: Should I use Excel to teach my class? Or should I use R? Which package is the best? Update in April 2018: I have written a further post, covering other aspects and other packages. It depends on the class The short answer is: It depends on your class. You have to ask yourself, what are the attitudes, skills and knowledge that you wish the students to gain in the course. What is it that you want them to feel and do and understand? If the students are never likely to do any more statistics, what […]