This weekend, I spend two days at USCOTS, the United States Conference on Teaching Statistics at Penn State University. The opportunity to connect with old friends, share ideas, and reflect my own practices was exciting. Here are just a sampling of my experiences, many of which could be their own blog post. You can find many speaker presentations and more resources on the CauseWeb site. Hope you enjoy!
MOVING FROM SANITIZED DATA SETS – a Keynote by Shonda Kuiper of Grinnell College noted that while interest in the study of statistics is at an all-time high, are we really preparing students to apply statistical concepts in a realistic manner? Shonda challenged the group to move from canned textbook data sets and let large, real data sets drive coursework. Her Stats2Labs website is a treasure chest of activities and data sets, from which she shared a rich set of NY Stops and Arrests, and Shonda shared her methods for using the set to faciltate discussions. For my high school classes, I am most looking forward to using the Tangram Game applet, which collects many variables on gameplay.
I often tell my students that statistics is often about telling a story, and was thrilled to hear a college professor share this theme as well!
STUDENT POSTERS – the poster sessions were interesting to me as a high school teacher, as my own students are preparing for “Stats Fair” next week. How awesome to show my students that the presentations they are about to share are not too dissimilar from those they may encounter later in their academic careers, just in the sophistication of the studies and methods. You can’t beat having a small-group discussion with Beth Chance regarding the Rossman-Chance stats applets, which should be a part of every Stats class. Posters on HS integrated math programs, flipped learning, and formative assessments provided info to think about for next year.
EGG ROULETTE – a session by James Bush and Jen Bready led to a fun “hook” I hope to try with my 9th graders next year. James and Jen are masters of using video and pictures from the media to engage learners and grow discussion. Here, James chose Doug Tyson and I as “volunteers” to participate in a game. I quickly became worried when it was advertised as “Egg Russian Roulette”, and a clip from the Jimmy Fallon show was played:
The plot thickens when an egg carton makes an appearance…but filled with plastic eggs, some containing packing peanuts. I lost after 3 picks, and a simulation of the activity ensued from the group. Is there an advantage to being first? James alleges the person playing first loses 5/9 of the time. Try a simulation with your classes and find out!
CATCHING UP WITH OLD FRIENDS – Ruth Carver teaches high school about 20 minutes from me, and I cherish the times we find to trade stories. By the time arrived at the conference, Ruth was already gushing over the many great sessions she had attended, and shared a quote from Dick DeVeaux which applies nicely to all classrooms:
Students like uncomfortable learning less and less. They like things clear as a bell with no sweat, no thinking, no neurons firing. They are confusing easy and comfortable with learning. To use a sports analogy, “Is that what you want from your sports practices – easy, comfortable, they didn’t break a sweat? Well it should be the same with your classes; they should be sweating afterwards. It’s hard stuff; they should be thinking hard.
What are we all doing to make sure our students sweat in math class?
In return, I shared one of my new favorite ways to collect fun data: the website how-old.net. How well does it predict your age? What if you smile? What it I wear a hat? You will be toying with this and your friends at your next gathering.
SIMULATION-BASED INFERENCE – This has become a hot topic in the stats world – I have come to use the StatKey site more often in my classes to have students simulate distributions – and was eager to learn how to leverage simulations with traditional hypothesis testing methods. Robin Lock and Kari Lock Morgan shared examples where simulations allowed us to compute simulation distributions, but then move those results into traditional distributions and test statistics. My AP classes have generally been “successful” in that my AP passing rate is quite good, so it becomes tricky to want to ditch old methods. But the experiences and communication gained from simulation methods are too rich to be ignored. Infusing my classroom with more simulation-based inference could dominate much of my planning for next year.
CONNECTING – Connection was the theme of the conference, and a part of all of the talks. I strengthed bonds with old friends (many of whom I will see in 2 weeks for the AP Stats reading), and appreciate the many new folks I met for the first time. Doug Tyson’s silly selfie challenge gave me the courage to say hello to many people I wouldn’t normally have approched. And though Doug won the challenge with a late-Friday “get” of Jessica Utts, the new AP Stats Cheif Reader – which I came so close to photo-bombing, I’ll take my photos with Allan Rossman and Roxy Peck as a well-deserved second-place.
DISCONNECTING – The saturday lunch-time talk by Michael Posner of Villanova University inspired the group by sharing the many connections he has made with the Stats community over his career. Michael often shares at our local PASTA (Philly-Area Stats Teachers Association) meetings, and I appreciate his desire to connect with high school teachers.
While explaining the power of connections he has made, Michael also challenged the group to disconnect, and reflect upon their teaching. In particular, are we using our Stats expertise to clearly measure the efficacy of our teaching methods? And while sharing ideas at conferences can be energizing, how do we personalize what we have gathered to work for our classroom? Such great themes to consider at the close of a conference.
AFFIRMATION AND REFLECTION – When I first started teaching AP Stats, I was cautioned that stats teachers are often the lonliest people in their departments. Walk into a high school math planning room, bring up methods for solving quadratic functions, and you may soon have a full group conversation. But try to start a discussion of two-sample t-tests? Crickets…. This conference was attended by about 450 passionate stats people, with only about 10% being high school folks. But the college crowd could not have been nicer or more accomodating in wanting to share their ideas. The entire experience left me energized that I am headed in (mostly) the right direction in what I do to encourage stats study, and with plenty of resources and connections for improving my practice. Looking forward to USCOTS 2017!