International Research Forums on Statistical Reasoning, Thinking, and Literacy

Dani Ben-Zvi (University of Haifa)
Joan Garfield (University of Minnesota)

Newsletter for the Section on Statistical Education
Volume 10, Number 1 (Spring 2004)

SRTL-3, 2003: Reasoning about Variability
The third in a series of international research forums on statistical reasoning, thinking and literacy (SRTL) took place this past summer at the Teachers College Institute of the University of Lincoln-Nebraska. This particular gathering of researchers has played an important role in advancing our understanding of the richness and depth of reasoning about variability, a key focus of statistics education.

The forum was sponsored by Teachers College Institute of the University of Lincoln-Nebraska (UNL), Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), Faculty of the Quantitative and Qualitative Methods in Education (QQME) Program at UNL, the IASE Statistical Education Research Group (IASE-SERG), the ASA Section on Statistics Education, and Vanderbilt University.

The focus of SRTL-3 on reasoning about variability emerged from the previous two conferences (SRTL-1 in 1999, SRTL-2 in 2001). Variability stands in the heart of statistical theory and practice. "Variation is the reason why people have had to develop sophisticated statistical methods to filter out any messages in data from the surrounding noise" (Wild & Pfannkuch, 1999, p. 236).

Eighteen researchers in statistics education from six countries shared their work, discussed important issues, and initiated collaborative projects in a stimulating and enriching environment. Sessions were held in an informal style, with a high level of interaction. With emphasis on reasoning about variability, a wide range of research projects (listed below) were presented spanning learners of all ages, as well as teachers. These demonstrated an interesting diversity in research methods, theoretical approaches and points of view. As a result of the success of this gathering, plans are already underway for the next gathering (SRTL-4) in 2005 in New Zealand (further details are provided below).

The program began with an overview talk by Robert Gould titled "Variability: One statistician's view". The following ten research presentations were thematically grouped into clusters. A cluster included two one-hour research presentations to the entire group, small group discussions, small group reports and finally a whole group discussion. Most presenters showed a small subset of video segments of their research. In addition, optional time was devoted to viewing and discussing the research video-tapes.

The research forum proved to be very productive in many ways. Several types of scientific publications will be produced including a CD-ROM of the proceedings (further details are provided below), papers in refereed journals, and a special issue of Statistics Education Research Journal (SERJ) on reasoning about variability (see: These will all serve as rich resources for statistics educators and researchers.

SRTL-4, 2005: Reasoning about Distribution
The Fourth International Research Forum on Statistical Reasoning, Thinking, and Literacy will be hosted by the Department of Statistics, The University of Auckland, New Zealand, July 2-7, 2005. The Forum's theme is "Reasoning about Distribution".

The focus of this gathering on reasoning about distribution has naturally emerged from the previous three conferences. Distribution is a key concept in statistics, and yet statisticians and educators may not be aware of how difficult it is for students to develop a deep understanding of this concept. When students are given tasks involving comparing distributions or making inferences, they often fail to utilize relevant information contained in the underlying distributions. Curricular materials often focus on construction and identification of distributions, but not on what these distributions mean to students and how they interpret them. Realizing the importance and complexity involved in understanding this concept, SRTL-4 will focus on the challenge of developing students' reasoning about distributions. We welcome presentations of research at SRTL-4 that address questions such as the following.

What does distribution mean to students? What are the simplest forms and representations of distributions that children can understand? When and how do children begin to develop the idea of distribution? How does reasoning about distribution develop from the simplest forms to the more complex ones? What are instructional tasks and technological tools that promote the understanding of distribution? What are the common misconceptions involved in reasoning about distribution? How does an understanding of distribution connect and effect understanding of other statistical concepts and how does it relate to other kinds of statistical reasoning (e.g., reasoning about variation, covariation)? What are the difficulties that students encounter when working with, analyzing and interpreting distributions? What are ways to assess understanding of distribution? What are useful methodologies for studying the understanding of distributions? What type of understanding of distribution is sufficient for a statistically literate person?

For further information on SRTL-4, contact Maxine Pfannkuch, Department of Statistics, The University of Auckland, New Zealand. Phone: 64 9 373 7599, ext 88794; Fax: 64 9 373 7018; E-mail:; or see SRTL-4 Web site:

Reasoning about Variability: A Collection of Current Research Studies (CD)
We are pleased to announce the publication of Reasoning about Variability: A Collection of Current Research Studies, a unique CD that contains research papers on reasoning about variability that were presented at the Third International Research Forum on Statistical Reasoning, Thinking and Literacy (SRTL-3) held July 2003 in Lincoln, Nebraska, USA. Many of these papers (which are all written in English) contain video segments (in English or with English subtitles) of student interviews or teaching experiments in classrooms. These video segments and research studies provide a rich resource for researchers and teachers. The video segments included on the CD are to be used only for research purposes. For any other purpose, permission should be obtained from the individual authors.

The CDs are available for a minimal cost that covers materials and postage. They may be purchased from Professor Carl Lee who is the treasurer for the SRTL non-profit organization. The total cost including shipping in the USA is $10 and the total cost for shipping overseas is $15.

Please make checks payable to Carl Lee (SRTL3). Mail checks to: Professor Carl Lee, Att: SRTL-3 Proceedings, Department of Mathematics, Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, MI 48859.

Papers included in the CD Reasoning about Variability: A Collection of Current Research Studies:

  1. Rob Gould -- Variability: One Statistician's View
  2. Jane Watson & Ben Kelly -- Developing Intuitions about Variation: The Weather
  3. Chris Reading -- Student Perceptions of Variation in a Real World Context
  4. Bob delMas & Yan Liu -- Exploring Students' Understanding of Statistical Variation
  5. Avital Lann & Ruma Falk -- What are the Clues for Intuitive Assessment of Variability?
  6. Dani Ben-Zvi -- The Emergence of Reasoning about Variability in Comparing Distributions: A Case Study of Two Seventh Grade Students
  7. Arthur Bakker -- Reasoning About Shape as a Pattern in Variability
  8. James Hammerman & Andee Rubin -- Reasoning in the Presence of Variability
  9. Katie Makar & Jere Confrey -- Chunks, Clumps, and Spread Out: Secondary Preservice Teachers' Informal Notions of Variation and Distribution
  10. Maria Meletiou & Carl Lee -- Studying the Evolution of Students' Conceptions of Variation: Using the Transformative and Conjecture Driven Research Design
  11. Ruth Heaton & William Mickelson -- Purposeful Statistical Investigation Merged with K-6 Content: Variability, Learning and Teacher Knowledge Use in Teaching

For further information on any SRTL related issue please contact the SRTL Co-Chairs Joan Garfield ( and Dani Ben-Zvi (

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