Report on the 77th Annual Meeting of NCTM, San Francisco, April 22-24, 1999

Richard L. Scheaffer
University of Florida

Newsletter for the Section on Statistical Education
Volume 5, Number 2 (Summer 1999)


Around 19,000 mathematics educators met in late April for the Annual Meeting of NCTM in beautiful San Francisco, which even furnished outstanding weather for the visitors. (And you think the JSM is too big!) The theme of the meeting was "Celebrating Our Progress, Continuing the Journey" and this theme fits well with the strong emphasis on statistics and probability seen throughout the sessions. Reflecting on NCTM meetings I have attended for the past 18 years, it is apparent that statistics education has made great progress but there are still challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Throughout the sessions, short workshops, long workshops and all-day conferences, statistics was represented at all levels, from AP down through the high school grades, middle grades and elementary grades. The program lists 34 sessions with statistics in the title and another 27 with probability in the title, and these do not include the ones that refer to data analysis, graphing data, uses of technology or other terminology that reflects notions of statistics. It would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that statistics, broadly speaking, was a major sub-theme of the meeting. The sessions covered how to teach basic concepts, how to integrate statistics into standard topics in, say, elementary or middle grades math, student projects, uses of technology, hands-on activities and many other topics.

In such a large meeting with so many parallel sessions, speakers resort to very descriptive (and sometimes clever) titles to attract a crowd to their presentations, and some of these titles reveal quite a lot about the content and nature of the presentation. Here are some of the titles for elementary grades: "Helping Data Come Alive in Elementary Classrooms: Discovering What Children Know," "An Entertaining Approach to Statistics," "Shuffle and Roll: Card and Dice Games to Reinforce Basic Skills," "Quantitative Literacy-Statistical Activities that Integrate Mathematics Across the Curriculum," "Celebrating Success with Probability and Statistics," "Using Statistical Investigations in the Classroom to Study Math Integrated with other Disciplines."

The middle grades presentations had titles such as "Statistics by the Handful," "Developing a Critical Attitude toward the Use of Statistics," "Candies, Counters, and Chance-Probability and Statistics in the Middle Grades," "Perk Up Your Box-and-whiskers," "Survey Project: Middle Schoolers Compare Teens and Adults," and "Letıs Talk Trash: a Statistical Analysis of Trash, Composting and Student-Designed Plant Growth Investigations."

At the high school level, below the AP course, titles included "Statistics Using the TI-83 Graphing Calculator," "Probability Blindness- Have We Closed Our Eyes to the Increased Importance and use of this Topic in Real life?" "Linear Regression, Correlation, and Residuals: Whatıs Important from a Statisticianıs Perspective," "Probability Through Data," "Data Connections in Algebra 2: Experiments and Projects," and "Studentıs Data-Driven Projects with School, Parent, and Community Involvement."

In addition to sessions on AP statistics there were day-long workshops exclusively devoted to AP statistics on two of the meeting days, and a third day-long workshop (organized by the ASA-NCTM Joint Committee) on Quantitative Literacy that had strands for elementary, middle and high school grades as well as AP. An informal meeting of current and prospective AP statistics teachers drew 160 participants (late Friday afternoon on a gorgeous day!) to a discussion that ranged over a variety of issues. One important issue that ASA members could help resolve is the problem of colleges and universities accepting AP credit for an introductory statistics course. Students can usually win this battle after finding the right person to whom to present their credentials through persistence and tenacity, but college faculty who teach these courses could help pave the way for incoming students to receive the credit they deserve.

ASA was represented well by Carol Blumberg at a session on the new NCTM Standards; she gave a brief overview of the report prepared by the ASA Association Review Group (ARG) as one of only four official presentations at this session. It is interesting to note that the presenter for AMS spoke quite favorably about statistics but the one for MAA questioned how statistics could be worked into the curriculum along with all the other topics requiring emphasis.

All things considered, this would have to be considered as a very positive meeting for those who view statistics as an essential part of the mathematics curriculum, from K through 12 and beyond, that enhances the study of mathematics and teaches students some useful concepts of quantitative reasoning along the way.


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