WSS Members Serve as Expert Judges on Science Fair Circuit
During the peak of the spring semester, members of the Washington Statistical Society (WSS) served as expert judges for five regional science fairs that occur in the Washington, DC, area. The WSS annually participates in these regional science fairs as part of its quantitative literacy and community service programs.
WSS representatives also promoted the Curtis Jacobs Award for Outstanding Statistics Project. The award was established in 1991 to honor the memory of Jacobs, who served as a chief statistician at the Bureau of Labor Statistics on many major federal economic statistics programs, including the Consumer Price Index.
Many of the judges recounted their high-school careers, recalling that statistics courses were, at best, a lecture or two in a math class. Today, many high-school students even have the opportunity to take Advanced Placement Statistics courses from qualified teachers. The diversity of the projects that made use of statistical ideas and the truly high sophistication of some science projects exemplified the dramatic change that has taken place over the past. Even projects conducted by junior high-school students demonstrated the increasing knowledge of statistical uncertainty at an early level. They exercised an awareness and understanding of statistical uncertainty in their study designs and analyses, through concepts such as standard deviation, model estimation, and statistical reporting.
Mike Messner of the Environmental Protection Agency served as head judge for the science fair coordinated by the Montgomery County schools, having done so for many years. He gave his impression of the students who dedicate countless hours and energy to their scientific efforts: “These kids are awesome.”
For example, in the Northern Virginia Regional Science and Engineering Fair, the first-place winner, Margaret Doyle of Yorktown High School, applied a probit model to assess the efficacy of sweet potato extracts as an inexpensive mosquito larvicide. She had collected a sample of 2,000 larvae and measured the lethal dose of extracts from different parts of the plant.
The second-place winner, Christopher Gerlach of T.C. Williams High School, addressed a meteorological issue. He had collected weather data from multiple sources and fitted models to determine which forecasting method had the highest predictive ability. He used the R statistical software to estimate models and develop attractive plots in an exuberant display that was nearly 6 feet tall.
Doyle received a check for $100, Gerlach received the book Statistics by James McClave and Terry Sincich, and both received a subscription to CHANCE magazine donated by Taylor & Francis. Pearson Education, Inc. and Cengage Learning donated elementary, introductory, and AP edition statistics books and the web software StatCrunch Data Analysis.
WSS Science Fair Judges and Curtis Jacobs Award Representatives
Laura Lee Johnson