Two Undergraduates Experience USCOTS 2013
Anna Keathley and Lauren Magee
We had the honor of attending the United States Conference on Teaching Statistics (USCOTS 2013) May 16–18. Our six-hour plane flight from California to North Carolina was not only for the free bags of peanuts, it was also to support a project we have both been involved with for two years. This project, led by Anna Bargagliotti, is called Project-SET and is aimed at developing teacher-level materials to better facilitate student learning at the high-school level. Currently, our project is tackling the difficult task of testing the resources we have created to see if they are beneficial.
As first-time conference attendees, we had a lot of pre-existing notions of how this weekend was going to transpire. We expected to sit in on numerous talks involving topics that went way over our heads and end up daydreaming about what was going to be served for our next meal. However, this was not the case at USCOTS. Either we have a much deeper comprehension of statistics than we had originally assessed or the presenters were skilled in both simplifying their subject matter and making their talks entertaining to the average viewer. We believe it was the latter.
While neither of us intend on pursuing a path strictly in statistics education, we were surprised to glean relatable information to our area of interest from the talks offered. Immediately during the opening session, we were entertained by personal narratives and able to establish an understanding that everyone in the room was coming from the same place—we all had a love for statistics.
This may have been our only similarity, because to our surprise, we were the only participants, besides the babies brought in by their parents, who did not have a bachelor’s degree. It is an understatement to say we were initially intimidated. However, all the participants at USCOTS were more than friendly and actually appreciated our opinion in table discussions as we brought in a different perspective on the education system.
Unfortunately, only one of us has taken a statistics course at the college level, so the majority of our statistics knowledge stems from the AP Statistics course at our respective high schools. We both feel privileged to have had extremely passionate teachers, but after reading over the Common Core Standards, we realized the gaps that had occurred in our elementary and secondary education. The Common Core had not been established when we were going through school, so our teachers did not have this framework to work from, which only re-instilled how important the development of an adequate standard for statistics education truly is.
Another aspect of the conference we found surprising was the focus on technology. Our generation is expected to be well-versed in all things technology, but we realized we couldn’t be more unfamiliar with what is available in the field of statistics. Our math professors, and even statistics teacher, never seemed to stray beyond the graphing calculator. Chris Wild’s presentation, “Using Your Laptop to Gain iNZight and VITality: Intuitive, Free Software for Analysis and Conceptual Development,” provided a new program geared toward graphing data that allowed the user to calculate the mean and other statistics, as well as graph this information in appropriate forms. We are sure many of you have endured the torture of creating a dot plot using Excel. We even made a video about it, so any program preventing that pain receives our exuberant approval.
The activities highlighted by Shonda Kuiper from Grinnell College in her talk, “Nurturing a Passion for Statistics by Finding Stories in Data,” were easy to access and included simple instructions for tasks that were fun, but also related to statistics. These activities could be administered to children as young as elementary school age and give them a basis for their future statistical understanding.
While some of the technology did seem challenging, we appreciated the effort statisticians are putting into making the subject relatable to this generation. We enjoyed the poster “Learning and Facebook? Using StatCrunch Friend Data to Illustrate the Consequences of a Nonrandom Sample,” presented by Aimee Schwab, who explored using personal Facebook friends to create data.
We found that many teachers and professors are thinking outside the box to pique their students’ interest. We know social media, in particular, is such an important aspect to our generation, particularly Anna, as she spent the entire conference live tweeting quotes from the conference and was excited to win the social media award for most tweets. Her excitement was not only for the $100 prize to Omaha Steaks, although she will be treating us to filet mignon for the next couple weeks, but also for the title. She had to beat out a lot of mad tweeters for the prize. With the growth in social media, it is clear that even statisticians who have been teaching for decades are making the effort to change their curriculum and classroom to center on these new innovations.
What remained abundantly clear throughout the conference is that statistics education reform is absolutely necessary. In our undergraduate education, we have become undeniably aware of this fact, and we are constantly surprised at how little students, even at the university level, understand statistics. Xiao-Li Meng from Harvard University explained that an integrated education model is of the utmost importance for any field of study. We are both involved with some sort of integrated education, so this is a point we find to be extremely valid.
Our specified fields of study are not the only places where we can draw a connection. Statistics can be seen everywhere. At Harvard, even the students pursuing art-related careers are required to take a statistics class for their general education. We think this unwavering requirement should be implemented at all universities as statistics offers important insight about how to think critically about the world around you.
USCOTS included two poster sessions during which we were allowed to browse and talk to presenters one-on-one about their projects. It was during this time that we were able to look around at what other schools, domestically and internationally, were pursuing in the name of statistics research. The posters “Statistical Treasure Hunt: An Outdoor Game Activity to Enhance Student Engagement and Motivation” and “The Pepsi Challenge in the Statistics Classroom” taught us an exciting way to engage students.
One of the posters involved sending students at the undergraduate level on a treasure hunt during which they had to stop at specific checkpoints and answer statistical questions correctly before moving on. The activity was done at an unknown location and it forced students on the same team to work together if they wanted to reach the eventual end.
The Pepsi Challenge asked students to try three cups of liquid. Each cup contained either Pepsi or Coke, with two of the cups containing the same type and the third being different. The objective was to identify which cup was different. Anna was able to identify the difference rather quickly, but Lauren struggled a bit and ended up giving an inaccurate identification. She still maintains that her cups must have been labeled incorrectly.
While this conference is created for professionals, we found there was actually a lot to take away as undergraduate students. We learned how applicable statistics topics can be to our specific fields of study and, even more importantly, we learned that we will never tire of statistics song parodies, a favorite being “Hit Me With Your Best Plot” (thank you Lawrence Lesser).
We both feel humbled and honored that we were given the opportunity to come to USCOTS and be surrounded by such talented educators. During not only the presentations, but also discussions at the dinner table, we absorbed valuable advice about life. Anna, an aspiring high-school mathematics teacher, was able to hear from current teachers about their experiences, struggles, and accolades. And Lauren, geared toward human genetics research, was able to apply the innovation, creativity, and integration of different educational outlets to her future career.