20 January 2012

Textbooks and horseless carriages

Why do my students like me and the bookreps don’t? Because I do not require a textbook for either of my large entry level courses in Statistics and Operations Research. I have found that so few students use any prescribed text, that it is pointless prescribing one. I have found other ways to engage students and help them to learn the skills, attitudes and content that I believe are necessary. The other problem was that I never found a text that aimed to develop the same skills, attitudes and content that I wanted them to. Too many of them seemed […]
2 February 2012

Teaching Operations Research with food

What I like about Operations Research is its applied nature. It is mathematical and useful. We need to make sure that our students recognize that. As students have often had little experience in the world of business and manufacturing, it can be helpful to use examples based around food. Food is a universal topic. We all need food and most of us enjoy it and probably eat too much. For this reason food is a useful context to use in teaching. Linear programming diet problems The linear programming diet problem is an obvious starting place. For decades linear programs have […]
23 February 2012

Drill and Rote in teaching LP and Hypothesis Testing

Drill and rote-learning are derogatory terms in many education settings. They have the musty taint of “old-fashioned” ways of teaching. They evoke images of wooden classrooms and tight-lipped spinsters dressed in grey looming over trembling pupils as they recite their times-tables. Drill and rote-learning imply mindless repetition, devoid of understanding. Much more attractive educational terms are “discovery”, “exploration”, “engagement”. Constructivism requires that learners engage with their materials and create learning by building on existing knowledge and experiences. But (and I’m sure you could see this coming) I think there is a place for something not far from drill or rote-learning […]
1 March 2012
Percentage calculations

A picture is worth…

I don’t believe in learning styles. The idea of visual, audio, tactile and kinaesthetic learners has been popular in the last decade, but has done a great disservice to many learners labelled “kinaesthetic” and left to play with the blocks in the corner. So when a person tells me they are a visual learner, in the same defining tone they would use to state their height or eye color, I wince inside. What I do believe is that effective learners use many different ways to learn, and for most of us a well-thought-out diagram will help in understanding and retaining […]
8 March 2012

You’re teaching it wrong!

“Every year I teach them this and every year they get it wrong!”. This is a phrase I’ve heard from colleagues and from my own mouth. Then it dawned on me – if the students keep getting it wrong, maybe I’m teaching it wrong! Example of Linear regression analysis Here’s an example. In linear regression I found that students often had trouble interpreting the slope. They would get it the wrong way around, or just not get it. Every year it was the same and I repeatedly groaned at incorrect interpretations in their work. Then it struck me that maybe […]
20 March 2012

Statistical Misconception Removal

Our central city is being “deconstructed”. That’s the modern word for demolition. We live in Christchurch, New Zealand where many of our buildings were badly damaged by a string of serious earthquakes over the last 18 months, beginning on 4 September 2010. Over a thousand buildings in the central city are being demolished, because they are no longer safe. The larger ones will take up to a year to bring down, and experts have come from other parts of the world to assist in the process. It is pretty sad, really as we love our buildings. But we need to […]
30 March 2012

Operations Research and Statistics: BFF

As they say on Twitter: That silence after you tell someone you teach Operations Research (or Statistics). Those in the OR and Statistics communities know what conversation stoppers our disciplines are. When asked what subject I teach I take a punt and respond with “Operations Research”, “Management Science” or “Statistics”. “Operations Research” is met with incomprehension, “Management Science” with miscomprehension, and “Statistics” with thinly disguised antipathy. Apart from being undervalued, what the disciplines have in common is that we do practical stuff with numbers. The pedagogies of these disciplines have much in common. Operations Research and Management Science (which for […]
23 July 2012

Question questions

Ooooh – new data! There is nothing like a new set of data, just sitting there in the computer, all ready for me to clean and graph and analyse and extract its secrets. I know I should be methodical in my approach, but sometimes I feel like a kid at Christmas, metaphorically ripping open the presents as I jump from graph to procedure, and back to graph again. I then have to go back and do it properly, documenting my approach and recording results, but that’s okay too. That can reveal a second lot of wonders as I sift and […]
1 October 2012

Statistical muscle memory

I am forever grateful to the teachers at my convent high school. In my first year I was required to take thirteen different subjects, one of which was typing. At the time computers were still objects mainly occurring in science fiction and operated by punch-cards, but the nuns thought we should get a wide exposure to different subjects (just in case I decided to be a typist/linguist/artist/scientist… instead of a maths teacher). Consequently I can touch-type, a skill which has been invaluable in my career as an academic. I don’t think about where my fingers are going – in fact […]
15 October 2012

Optimal instruction in Statistics and Operations Research

Optimise everything! I had a colleague who believed that everything could and should be optimised. He had a diet Linear Program which he used to plan his meals to provide optimal nutrition. Unfortunately the Linear Program didn’t seem to have a constraint to ensure the food was palatable, and he would eat combinations like sardines, broccoli and sunflower seeds for lunch. My colleague also believed that there must be an optimal way to teach, that would maximise the learning outcome. I am doubtful that there is such a thing, bearing in mind the diversity of human experience. However I like […]