MAA Has Special Interest Group for Statistics Education

Dex Whittinghill
Rowan University

Newsletter for the Section on Statistical Education
Volume 7, Number 2 (Spring 2001)

This is an open letter to anyone and everyone who has an interest in the wellbeing of statistics education, and announces the Mathematical Association of America's (MAA's) new Special Interest Group on Statistics Education, or 'SIGMAA on Stat Ed.' If you read this newsletter chances are that you are a statistician in a statistics or mathematics department. However, you could be a mathematician in a mathematics department who teaches a lot of statistics, or maybe has been 'born again,' and one of your primary interests is statistics education. You could be a high school teacher involved with the Advanced Placement test for Statistics. Whoever you are, I want to tell you about the SIGMAA on Stat Ed.

As many of you may know, some ten years ago in August of 1991, the Isolated Statisticians met for the first time at the Atlanta Joint Statistical Meetings (JSMs). The meeting was organized by the Statistics in the Liberal Arts Workshop (SLAW), and moderated by Jeff Witmer of Oberlin College (SLAW member). It was primarily for statisticians who were isolated from other statisticians by nature of their being the only, or one of two, statisticians in a mathematics department. Also in attendance were statisticians from statistics departments who were sympathetic to the difficulties of the isolated statistician's existence. The 'IsoStaters' have continued to meet at the JSMs, usually with 40 attendees discussing issues related to teaching statistics and to being an isolated statistician. Since then there have also been many regional conferences for isolated statisticians. The benefits reaped by the isolated statisticians at their annual and regional meetings were so positive that Tom Moore of Grinnell College (SLAW moderator) and Don van Osdol of the University of New Hampshire had an idea. Why not have a meeting of the mathematicians who teach a lot of statistics, or who are interested in statistics education, at the Joint Mathematics Meetings (JMMs) in January of each year?

So, in the summer of 1997 that they asked me to organize and moderate such a meeting, and at the JMMs in Baltimore in January of 1998, the first Isolated Teachers of Statistics Meeting (ITSM) was held. Over 40 attendees discussed issues related to being the only, or one of very few, instructors in the department who cares about statistics education. The 'IsoTeaStaters' met again in January of 1999 at San Antonio.

At about this time the MAA was developing the concept of Special Interest Groups (their counterpart to an ASA Section). There were other interest groups meeting regularly at the JMMs as well. Involved with this task force was Allan Rossman of Dickinson College, Chair of the ASA/MAA Joint Committee on Undergraduate Statistics), and like myself, an IsoStater and IsoTeaStater. Before the January 2000 JMMs the concept of a SIGMAA became official, and Allan drafted a charter for a SIGMAA on Statistics Education. With the help of yours truly and my co-organizer for the January 2000 ITSM, Mary Sullivan of Rhode Island College, we 'slickened' it up and presented it to the IsoTeaStaters at the 2000 ITSM. At that meeting the IsoTeaStaters discussed whether we wanted to become a SIGMAA (and voted 'yes'), made suggestions to improve the draft charter, and in fact voted to dissolve upon acceptance of the charter for the SIGMAA on STAT Ed by the appropriate MAA committees.

Last June saw the end of the 'IsoTeaStat-ers' and the beginning of the official SIGMAA on Stat Ed. Over the fall, when MAA members were asked to renew, they had the option of joining two SIGMAAs. At the 2001 JMMs this January in New Orleans, at the inaugural SIGMAA on Stat Ed business meeting, I was happy to announce that we had 170 dues paying members! Also at the meeting we discussed outreach to groups such as the NCTM, AMATYC, the AMS, and all teachers of statistics in mathematics departments at the high school or college level. We discussed liaisons with the ASA's Stat Ed section and appropriate committees with the NCTM, AMATYC, CUPM, the IASE, and statistics educators in other disciplines. We bounced around ideas for our newsletter, our web page, and what we wanted for benefits. We even 're-elected' our charter slate of officers for 2001 (hey, we didn't really exist until we got money ... uh ... members). I am the Chair, Mary Sullivan is Chair Elect, Ginger Holmes Rowell of Middle Tennessee State University is Secretary, K.L.D. Gunawardena of U.W.-Oshkosh is Treasurer, and Allan Rossman is Past-Chair for the second year running! We have a Webmaster and three volunteers do edit the newsletter!

Of course we talked about a lot of 'big plans' at our inaugural meeting, and it will take time to get everything off of the ground. Yet we already have volunteers to liaison with AMATYC at their annual meeting, and with one of its very active regional 'sections.' Another person will try to organize a SIGMAA meeting at MathFest this summer (although he doesn't know it yet!). It also became clear how complicated it will be just assigning the various duties that the officers will have. However, as I look upon the upcoming year with excitement (and some trepidation!), I feel very positive about our future. To quote from our mission, I think that for many years to come the SIGMAA on Stat Ed will 'provide a forum through which those interested in statistics education can meet, interact, exchange ideas, provide support for each other, and foster increased awareness of statistics education.' Hey! If you are not a member of the MAA I invite you to join (remember, a huge percentage of all statistics courses are taught in mathematics departments). And if you are an MAA member, then joint the SIGMAA on Stat Ed today!

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