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 […]
4 March 2013

Shibboleth, Mixolydian, Heteroscedasticity – and Kipling

All areas of human endeavour have specific language. Cricket commentators, art critics and wines buff make this very obvious. Mixolydian My son, who is blind, autistic and plays the piano like an angel, is studying Jazz, and I’m helping him. You can see him on his YouTube channel . There is a specific language around Jazz, and I’m not talking about ‘scat’. (Hmm just realised the other meaning for that word!) In the Jazz course they use words like Mixolydian, Chromatisism, Quartal Harmony…  I nod and smile. This language expresses ideas clearly and uniquely and is outside my comprehension. (Mixolydian is […]
20 February 2013

Statistical Story-telling with time series data

Statistics is about story-telling. For people who understand them, graphs tell a story. To the initiated, even a p-value, and some summary statistics can help to tell a story. Part of the role of a statistician is to extract the story from the data. The role of a statistics teacher is to enable students first to recognise that there is a story, then to enable them to tell the story through the tools of analysis and communication. This idea of statistics as story-telling is explained in an award-winning paper byPfannkuch, Regan, Wild and Horton,Telling Data Stories: Essential Dialogues for Comparative […]
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 […]
19 November 2012

The Sound of Music meets Linear Programming

“Let’s start at the very beginning – a very good place to start. When you read you begin with A, B,C!” When you do statistics you begin with…probability? the mean? graphs? Begin at the end But really, is the beginning a very good place to start? Sometimes, we need to begin at the end. And sometimes we need to go back before the beginning. Always we need to think about where to begin, because it is seldom obvious, and copying what other teachers and textbooks have done is often a bad idea. Linear programming Take Linear Programming, the flagship technique […]
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 […]
3 September 2012

What Mathematics teachers need to know about statistics

My post suggesting that statistics is more vital for efficient citizens than algebra has led to some interesting discussions on Twitter and elsewhere. Currently I am beginning an exciting venture to provide support materials for teachers and students of statistics, starting with New Zealand. These two circumstances have led me to ponder about why maths teachers think that statistics is a subset of mathematics, and what knowledge and attitudes will help them make the transition to teaching statistics as a subject. An earlier post called for mathematics to leave statistics alone. This post builds on that by providing some ways […]
18 June 2012

Rounding is about communication

Rounding is more difficult than first appears. It appears straight-forward. To round a number you decide how many decimal places or significant figures you need then you look one digit further to see whether the final digit stays the same or goes up. Presto – there is rounding in a nutshell. Yet my university students struggle with rounding to a surprising degree. I did a Youtube search on rounding for a video to help them, but to no avail. I wrote a script for such a video. I’m afraid it won’t be appearing any time soon as I now have […]
10 April 2012

Statistics Textbooks suck out all the fun.

In 1987 George Cobb published a paper evaluating statistics textbooks. I am very grateful for it, as it alerted me to the problems with textbooks, and introduced me to the man himself, whose work I greatly admire. Cobb explains that statistics is an inherently interesting and practical subject, but that many textbooks seem to have missed that, or concealed it from the students. The discipline of statistics is inherently fascinating, applied and important. So why do so many textbooks make it seem mechanistic and abstract? I have been examining textbooks, and wonder if the writers even like their subject matter, […]
13 January 2012
Titles Tell All

The Importance of Titles

My colleague has an obsession about titles – and it is starting to rub off on me. Any time our graduate students present their work, the first thing that grabs her (and now my) attention is the title – the opening slide on the Powerpoint presentation. She declares that clarity of title indicates clarity of thought. It tells us whether they have mastered what they are talking about themselves. A woolly title indicates woolly thinking. As a result of her indoctrination I have included as part of a regression write-up, that students are required to provide a suitable title. They […]