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 […]
28 January 2013

Make journalists learn statistics

All journalists should be required to pass a course in basic statistics before they are let loose on the unsuspecting public. I am not talking about the kind of statistics course that mathematical statisticians are talking about. This does not involve calculus, R or anything tricky requiring a post-graduate degree. I am talking about a statistics course for citizens. And journalists. 🙂 I have thought about this for some years. My father was a journalist, and fairly innumerate unless there was a dollar sign involved. But he was of the old school, who worked their way up the ranks. These […]
22 April 2013

Is statistical enquiry a cycle?

What is the statistical enquiry cycle and why is it a cycle? Is it really a cycle? The New Zealand curriculum for Mathematics and statistics was recently held up as an example of good practice with regard to statistics. Yay us! In New Zealand the learning of statistics starts at the beginning of schooling and is part of the curriculum right through the school years. Statistics is developed as a discipline alongside mathematics, rather than as a subset of it. There are mathematics teachers who view this as an aberration, and believe that when this particular fad is over statistics […]
15 July 2013

The Knife-edge of Competence

I do my own video-editing using a very versatile and complex program called Adobe Premiere Pro. I have had no formal training, and get help by ringing my son, who taught me all I know and can usually rescue me with patient instructions over the phone. At times, especially in the early stages I have felt myself wobbling along the knife-edge of competence. All I needed was for something new to go wrong, or or click a button inadvertently and I would fall off the knife-edge and the whole project would disappear into a mass of binary. This was not […]
22 July 2013

Conceptualising Probability

The problem with probability is that it doesn’t really exist. Certainly it never exists in the past [once we know the outcome]. (Looking for the Experimental Design post linked from our Newsletter? Use this link.) Probability is an invention we use to communicate our thoughts about how likely something is to happen. We have collectively agreed that 1 is a certain event and 0 is impossible. 0.5 means that there is just as much chance of something happening as not. We have some shared perception that 0.9 means that something is much more likely to happen than to not happen. […]
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 […]
31 March 2014

Teaching Confidence Intervals

If you want your students to understand just two things about confidence intervals, what would they be? What and what order When making up a teaching plan for anything it is important to think about whom you are teaching, what it is you want them to learn, and what order will best achieve the most important desired outcomes. In my previous life as a university professor I mostly taught confidence intervals to business students, including MBAs. Currently I produce materials to help teach high school students. When teaching business students, I was aware that many of them had poor mathematics […]
6 October 2014

A Statistics-centric curriculum

Calculus is the wrong summit of the pyramid. “The mathematics curriculum that we have is based on a foundation of arithmetic and algebra. And everything we learn after that is building up towards one subject. And at top of that pyramid, it’s calculus. And I’m here to say that I think that that is the wrong summit of the pyramid … that the correct summit — that all of our students, every high school graduate should know — should be statistics: probability and statistics.” Ted talk by Arthur Benjamin in February 2009. Watch it – it’s only 3 minutes long. […]
8 March 2016

Papamoa College statistics excursion to Hamilton Zoo

Last week I had a lovely experience. I visited the Hamilton Observatory and Zoo as part of a Statistics excursion with the Year 13 statistics class of Papamoa College. The trip was organised to help students learn about where data comes from. I went along because I really love teachers and students, and it was an opportunity to experience innovation by a team of wonderful teachers.  The students travelled from Papamoa to Hamilton, stopping for pizza in Cambridge. When we got to the Hamilton Observatory, Dave welcomed us and gave an excellent talk about the stars and data. I found […]
14 July 2016

Enriching mathematics with statistics

Statistics enriches everything! In many school systems in the world, subjects are taught separately. In primary school, children  learn reading and writing, maths and social studies at different times of the day. But more than that, many topics within subjects are also taught separately. In mathematics we often teach computational skills, geometry, measurement and statistics in separate topics throughout the school year. Textbooks tend to encourage this segmentation of the curriculum. This causes problems as students compartmentalise their learning.  They think that something learned in mathematics can’t possibly be used in Physics. They complain in mathematics if they are asked […]