Purdue University

Newsletter for the Section on Statistical Education

Volume 4, Number 2 (Summer 1998)

Much of the strength of the American Statistical Association comes from its decentralized structure, with sections offering unity of interests and local chapters offering unity of place. Chapters in particular sometimes feel a bit isolated, so ASA offers "chapter visits" by officers. Doing my duty, I told the ASA office that I would reserve February, March, and April 1998, for chapter visits. Result: 25 talks in 17 cities bounded by Anaheim, Seattle, Wallingford (Connecticut), and Boca Raton.

I offered the chapters a choice of four talks. Several took more than one, led by Seattle, which got all four in one day. For students: "Statistical Thinking: How to Tell the Facts from the Artifacts." For teachers: "Statistics in the Schools: Wisdom and Folly." For statisticians interested in teaching: "Technology for Teaching Statistics." And for everybody: "Statistical Literacy and Statistical Competence in the 21st Century." The last is my "standard talk" for this year, chosen by most chapters that wanted only one talk and were not using the visit (as Boston did, for example) to attract local teachers.

My larger themes in discussing "literacy and competence" will not surprise those active in statistical education. In an environment increasingly shaped by technology and rapid exchange of information, we need to find ways to convey broadly applicable intellectual skills that will outlast the more specific facts and methods that we teach. Some headings in my list of components of "statistical literacy" are: Data beat anecdotes. Filters for nonsense: triage on the information flood. Think broadly: Is this the right question? Think broadly: Does the answer make sense? Communication: Can you read a graph?

Visiting the chapters and talking with members was fascinating. There is no better way to appreciate the diversity of statistics and statisticians. Several chapters arranged visits to schools to talk with AP Statistics classes, and several gathered groups of teachers. My favorite student question (Seattle), was "Will you autograph my Gary Payton poster?" That followed my discussion of my free- throw shooting ability in response to a request to explain significance tests. "I claim I make 80%, so you invite me to the gym, where I make 3 out of 20..."

The teachers asked all the hard questions. On some, I have opinions; on others, only sympathy. Opinions: The AP Statistics exam is an excellent example of a modern college-level introduction to statistics. The primary purpose of "statistics" in elementary and middle school math is not to teach a separate discipline but to help build core math concepts and skills by providing a concrete context. Yes, calculators wisely used are a great idea, as are most other "reform" emphases; but there's no general protection against bad judgment by either reformers or traditionalists. Sympathy: For teachers suffering from various forms of bad judgment by superiors (adopting IMP or Saxon texts, for example).

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