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 […]
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 […]
28 May 2012

What is the point of statistics and operations research?

What is the point of what we teach? “But what use is this?” Through the ages, maths students have whined this to their frustrated teachers. Generally the question is a diversion tactic, to avoid work, but sometimes the question is genuine. It is helpful for teachers to have an answer worked out ahead of time. (“Be quiet and get on with your work!”, isn’t really sufficient) It is preferable to present the material in such a way that the use is so obvious as to devalue the question. And it helps if the material really is useful. For many teachers […]
11 June 2012
Two scientists discussing

Lies and statistics

One of the most famous sayings about statistics is the line: “There are three types of lies, lies, damned lies and statistics.” This was stated by author Mark Twain (Samuel Clements)  and quoted by British statesman Benjamin Disraeli.  There is a book entitled, “How to lie with statistics”. Within high school education students are taught about misleading graphs. It seems clear that statistics and facts are not the same thing. Yet one True/False question many of my students continue to get wrong says “Statistical analysis is an objective science, unaffected by the researcher’s opinions.” The correct response is False, yet […]
2 July 2012

I am many numbers

All sorts of numbers are used to describe us. The following numbers (with a few alterations to protect the innocent) can be used to describe me: 70, 50, 44, 145, 18, 2013, 176, 12438756, 51008420, 3, 0.25, 2, 26, 6439801802, 36942, 120000, 7,12. They include: number of children born to me, bank number, tax number, age, street number, postcode, clothing size, phone-number, number of years married, height, weight, employee number, level of education, IQ, number of weeks pay in my redundancy package, amount owing on my mortgage. Some of the numbers uniquely describe me, such as the IRD number, or […]
8 October 2012

Judgment Calls in Statistics and O.R.

The one-armed operations researcher My mentor, Hans Daellenbach told me a story about a client asking for a one-armed Operations Researcher. The client was sick of getting answers that went, “On the one hand, the best decision would be to proceed, but on the other hand…” People like the correct answer. They like certainty. They like to know they got it right. I tease my husband that he has to find the best picnic spot or the best parking place, which involves us driving around considerably longer than I (or the children) were happy with. To be fair, we do […]
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 […]
21 January 2013

Statistics or Calculus? Do both!

This post is prompted by two 17 year old boys, Cam and Thomas, who are about to enter year 13, the final year of High school in New Zealand. They are both academically capable, with highly educated parents. And both boys are struggling with a dilemma – should they  take Calculus or Statistics at school this year. I suspect their maths teachers are pushing for calculus, whereas their parents appreciate the value of statistics. Let’s take a look at the alternatives and see if we can help. (This makes no pretense of being a balanced view – that’s what comments […]
25 February 2013

Interpreting Scatterplots

Patterns, vocab and practice, practice, practice An important part of statistical analysis is being able to look at graphical representation of data, extract  meaning and make comments about it, particularly related to the context. Graph interpretation is a difficult skill to teach as there is no clear algorithm, such as mathematics teachers are used to teaching, and the answers are far from clear-cut. This post is about the challenges of teaching scatterplot interpretation, with some suggestions. When undertaking an investigation of bivariate measurement data, a scatterplot is the graph to use. On a scatterplot we can see what shape the […]
1 April 2013

Context – if it isn't fun…

The role of context in statistical analysis The wonderful advantage of teaching statistics is the real-life context within which any applicaton must exist. This can also be one of the difficulties. Statistics without context is merely the mathematics of statistics, and is sterile and theoretical.  The teaching of statistics requires real data. And real data often comes with a fairly solid back-story. One of the interesting aspects for practicing statisticians, is that they can find out about a wide range of applications, by working in partnership with specialists. In my statistical and operations research advising I have learned about a […]