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Educating Students To Unlock The Lessons Inside Data

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Educating Students To Unlock The Lessons Inside Data

Statisticians at The University of Auckland have developed new methods for teaching critical aspects of statistics, using sophisticated tools to help young students unlock the lessons inside data without getting caught up in complex mathematics.

The approach is considered revolutionary and the team, led by Professor Chris Wild, have been invited to present their ideas as a "read paper" to the Royal Statistical Society in the United Kingdom as part of the first World Statistics Day on Wednesday 20 October.

Professor Neville Davies from the Society says that the paper is set to transform the international landscape of statistical education. "Make no mistake, in my view this read paper is a seminal event in the society's long history. It is ground-breaking in its innovation and should have impact and influence for a long time to come."

"We want more people to be able to understand and make better use of statistics," says Professor Wild, an internationally-recognised innovator in statistics education. "Every day, people need to make decisions based on the results of surveys and polls and critically evaluate statistics reported in the news. Learning about statistics isn't just for future scientists and analysts - statistical literacy is an important part of being an informed member of society."

The new method relates to teaching statistical inference - the process of drawing conclusions about data that are subject to random variation. "Looking at the world using data is like looking through a window with ripples in the glass - what we see is never quite the way it really is. Statistical inference talks about how to take that fact into account and deal with the resulting uncertainty." says Professor Wild

"We recommend that when statistical inference is introduced in schools, teachers help students to visualise their data and how it is collected. Computers should be used to process and graph the results, rather than getting caught up in complex mathematical steps along the way that deflect attention from the real imperative, which is to unlock the stories in their data"

"Many people trying to deal with statistics run into a mathematical roadblock and we can use visual methods to avoid this," explains co-author Dr Maxine Pfannkuch. "Making extensive use of data imaging software can help students to understand patterns in data. We are aiming for students to make inferences about the world without taking their eyes off their data, so the connections between the question, data and answers are immediate and obvious."

This means that statistical concepts can be introduced to younger students, in a way that is easier to understand and less likely to alienate those less confident with mathematics. The goal is to cement the concepts first and move on to the underlying mathematics later.

The new methods are designed to help teachers implement the new mathematics and statistics curriculum that will roll out from next year, which the researchers also helped to develop. The new curriculum places greater emphasis on statistics and introduces inference at an earlier stage.

Practicing and former teachers who are part of the research team have developed classroom resources to help teachers put their recommendations into practice, and these are being trialled in schools. An in-depth workshop for teachers will be held at the university this November and next year the team hopes to take the workshop to centres around the country.

As well as headlining the World Statistics Day programme, Professor Wild's talk will mark the launch of a ten-year campaign to advance statistical literacy in the United Kingdom. The researchers will also feature in workshops run by the Society's Centre for Statistical Education over the following week.

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