24 April 2017

Graphs – beauty and truth

Graphs – beauty and truth (with apologies to Keats) A good graph is elegant I really like graphs. I like the way graphs turn numbers into pictures. A good graph is elegant. It uses a few well-placed lines to communicate what would take a paragraph of text. And like a good piece of literature or art, a good graph continues to give, beyond the first reading. I love looking at my YouTube and WordPress graphs. These graphs tell me stories. The WordPress analytics tell me that when I put up a new post, I get more hits, but that everyday […]
10 June 2015

Framework for statistical report-writing

This framework helps teachers and students think about how to produce better statistical reports.
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. […]
23 April 2014

A helpful structure for analysing graphs

Mathematicians teaching English “I became a maths teacher so I wouldn’t have to mark essays” “I’m having trouble getting the students to write down their own ideas” “When I give them templates I feel as if it’s spoon-feeding them” These are comments I hear as I visit mathematics teachers who are teaching the new statistics curriculum in New Zealand. They have a point. It is difficult for a mathematics teacher to teach in a different style. But – it can also be rewarding and interesting, and you never get asked, “Where is this useful?” The statistical enquiry cycle provides a […]
24 February 2014

Teach students to learn to fish

There is a common saying that goes roughly, “Give a person a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a person to fish and you feed her for a lifetime.” Statistics education is all about teaching people to fish. In a topic on questionnaire design, we choose as our application the consumption of sugar drinks, the latest health evil. We get the students to design questionnaires to find out drinking habits. Clearly we don’t want to focus too much on the sugar drink aspect, as this is the context rather than the point of the learning. What we […]
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 […]
16 September 2013

How to learn statistics (Part 2)

Some more help (preaching?) for students of statistics Last week I outlined the first five principles to help people to learn and study statistics. They focussed on how you need to practise in order to be good at statistics and you should not wait until you understand it completely before you start applying. I sometimes call this suspending disbelief. Next I talked about the importance of context in a statistical investigation, which is one of the ways that statistics is different from pure mathematics. And finally I stressed the importance of technology as a tool, not only for doing the […]
26 August 2013

Statistics is not beautiful (sniff)

Statistics is not really elegant or even fun in the way that a mathematics puzzle can be. But statistics is necessary, and enormously rewarding. I like to think that we use statistical methods and principles to extract truth from data. This week many of the high school maths teachers in New Zealand were exhorted to take part in a Stanford MOOC about teaching mathematics. I am not a high school maths teacher, but I do try to provide worthwhile materials for them, so I thought I would take a look. It is also an opportunity to look at how people […]
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 […]
13 May 2013

Teaching statistical report-writing

Teaching how to write statistical reports It is difficult to write statistical reports and it is difficult to teach how to write statistical reports. When statistics is taught in the traditional way, with emphasis on the underlying mathematics the process of statistics is truncated at both ends. When we concentrate on the sterile analysis, the messy “writing stuff” is avoided. Students do not devise their own investigative questions, and they do not write up the results. Here’s the thing though – in reality, the analysis step of a statistical investigation is a very small part of the whole, and performed […]