16 February 2016

Data for teaching – real, fake, fictional

There is a push for teachers and students to use real data in learning statistics. In this post I am going to address the benefits and drawbacks of different sources of real data, and make a case for the use of good fictional data as part of a statistical programme. Here is a video introducing our fictional data set of 180 or 240 dragons, so you know what I am referring to. Real collected, real database, trivial, fictional There are two main types of real data. There is the real data that students themselves collect and there is real data in […]
5 October 2015

Summarising with Box and Whisker plots

In the Northern Hemisphere, it is the start of the school year, and thousands of eager students are beginning their study of statistics. I know this because this is the time of year when lots of people watch my video, Types of Data. On 23rd August the hits on the video bounced up out of their holiday slumber, just as they do every year. They gradually dwindle away until the end of January when they have a second jump in popularity, I suspect at the start of the second semester. One of the first topics in many statistics courses is summary […]
3 June 2013

A dearth of raw data

The desired outcome of this post is to be proved wrong. Here is my assertion: It is really difficult to find appropriate sets of data to use for teaching and assessing statistical analysis. This is a problem; one of the key factors in teaching statistics effectively is to use real data. I have written about the need for real data (not faked) in my post Stop faking it, data should be real. I’d like to apologise here and now for my arrogant assertion that “The internet abounds with data. We can just about drown in it.” I feel like 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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
24 September 2012

Teaching experimental design

Teaching Experimental Design – a cross-curricular opportunity The elements that make up a statistics, operations research or quantitative methods course cover three different dimensions (and more). There are: techniques we wish students to master, concepts we wish students to internalise, and attitudes and emotions we wish the students to adopt. Techniques, concepts and attitudes interact in how a student learns and perceives the subject. Sadly it is possible (and not uncommon) for students to master techniques, while staying oblivious to many of the concepts, and with an attitude of resignation or even antipathy towards the discipline. Techniques Often, and less […]
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 […]
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 […]
23 April 2012

Stop faking it! Data should be real.

Use real data when teaching statistics In statistical analysis the context of the data is integral, not a story added on afterwards to make it more interesting. It is not like algebra where “making it real” means  you make up a reason for the equation, and require the students to give the correct units for the answer. In statistics the analysis involves understanding what is happening in the data. For this reason, as much as possible, data must be real. In a previous incarnation I have been guilty of making up data. I was even quite proud of being able […]