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Promoting the Practice and Profession of Statistics: Engaging High-School Students and Those Who Support Them

1 October 2016 2,078 views 3 Comments
Statistics Careers for AP Statistics and Other K–12 Classrooms Working Group
    This month’s President’s Invited Column shares information about my presidential initiative to provide statistics career information to Advanced Placement Statistics students and other high-school students, teachers, counselors, and parents. The column is written by the working group charged with implementing this initiative, chaired by Board Member Anna Nevius.

      Professor X has the X-Men, but their abilities pale in comparison to Professor Utts’s χ-squad. This talented group came together in 2015 in a secret Seattle location. Okay, not so secret. We met at JSM 2015. Anna Nevius chaired this initial meeting and, in the role of chair, has provided support and encouragement to the group over the past year. She has championed the work of the group in a variety of venues. The charge to this group was to get statistics career information into K–12 classrooms by curating existing resources and developing new resources to support ASA members who were willing to engage in K–12 student outreach activities.

      The group organized their work around the following broad areas:

      • Tips and tricks for preparing and delivering effective classroom presentations
      • Addressing the question, “What do statisticians and data scientists do?”
      • Explaining what education is required for jobs in statistics
      • Collecting activities to engage students
      • Highlighting the theme of “statistics plus,” showing that students can combine statistics with almost any other interest
      • Identifying additional resources for outreach activities

      A webpage with links to more information about each of these broad areas will be part of the new ASA website. The accompanying graphics highlight what content will be included.


      Initially, the focus was on preparing resources to assist ASA members in making classroom presentations; however, the group quickly realized these resources also would be useful for parents, counselors, and teachers.

      From the beginning, this group has tackled projects as a team. Our geographic diversity and work constraints made it more efficient to form smaller teams to work on specific projects, but we always came together during our conference calls to brainstorm and problem solve as a group.

      John Holcomb, work group member and Cleveland State University Department of Mathematics and Statistics chair, led the effort to develop the “tips and tricks” resources. Building on videos John developed, this group helped create a guide to planning and delivering an effective classroom presentation.


      The Bay Area Chapter piloted these resources. The chapter is going into its eighth year of making career presentations to Menlo Atherton High School and added Castilleja Private, a school for young women that counts Grace Slick as an alumna, this year. (This inspired some members to shop the 50th anniversary collection of Jefferson Airplane.) Jing Huang, Bay Area Chapter president, commented, “Thank you for the resource you provided!! Really helpful information presented in such an engaging manner. Even I, a statistician for the last 20 years or so, have learned a thing or two new from that wonderful deck.”


      Chris Barker, a Bay Area Chapter member who helped coordinate this outreach effort, also shared this input from one of the teachers: “His recommendation is that students prefer a speaker who involves them and asks questions.” This comment resonated with the group, so we have collected resources that can be used as part of classroom activities. These activities can also serve as resources for teachers.


      Work group member Jason Molesky, who is executive director of technology and data services for the Lakeville Area Public Schools, created StatsMonkey, a site focused on resources for teachers of AP Statistics. However, many of these resources can be adapted for a classroom presentation. Sharing activity-based resources is another outreach opportunity, and you don’t need to travel to do this!

      Sharon Hessney, who is AP Statistics content leader at Mass Insight Education, and Will Eagan, a Purdue University graduate student and ASA student chapter president, focused on the opportunities to engage students outside the classroom. They led the effort to organize a video contest. Contests engage students and have the benefit of a flexible schedule. A sample contest announcement and rubric for evaluating the entries are included as part of the activities resource. A contest would be an excellent chapter outreach activity and could involve mentoring students and teachers in the ASA poster and project competitions, starting a regional competition, or creating a new contest to engage students and teachers in statistics.


      Two members of the work group, Rachel Braun of Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy and Paul Buckley of Gonzaga College High School, shared their expertise as high-school teachers who advise students and respond to parent questions about preparing for college. They led an effort to address this information need. Their work led to the creation of a flier that lists a sample of college majors that require statistics, which is also posted on the This Is Statistics website. Rachel commented, “The flier’s long list of majors signals to students that choosing a statistics course while still in high school is excellent preparation for future endeavors. Beyond that, the flier conveys to students that statistics provides a broadly accepted, reliable set of analytic skills with wide applications; that is, many aspects of the world they inhabit can be explored and revealed through statistical reasoning.” We need your help in sharing this resource.

      High-school counselors play an important role in a student’s decision making. Christine Franklin, ASA K–12 statistical ambassador and work group member, and Leann Myers, who is a professor of biostatistics and bioinformatics at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, represented the ASA at the American School Counselors Association annual meeting. This was an excellent opportunity to share resources with counselors. Chris reported that the list of majors was a hit with the counselors who visited the ASA booth. This is another example of outreach that, although not part of the original charge of the group, quickly emerged as essential.

      AP Statistics teachers are responsible for teaching a challenging curriculum. When asked what his colleagues need, Paul Buckley emphatically said, “Resources!” The work group has put together a collection of resources to support curricular needs and make teachers aware of statistics career opportunities. Allan Rossman—work group member, former AP Statistics chief reader, and professor in the department of statistics at Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo—shared resources to respond to this need. We need your help in adding to this collection and in making teachers aware of these resources. This is another opportunity for valuable outreach that doesn’t require travel.

      Continuing the theme that identifying resources and encouraging teachers to participate is an essential component of outreach, Ann Cannon—work group member and chair of the Cornell College Department of Mathematics and Statistics—encouraged teachers in her area to participate in the 2016 Meeting Within a Meeting (MWM) at JSM. Ann was able to have lunch with the teachers and share their MWM experience. Throughout the year, the ASA hosts webinars for K–12 teachers; your help in spreading the word about these resources would be another outreach opportunity.

      An important question in any student outreach initiative is, “What do statisticians and data scientists do?” So this was a focus for the work group. The videos and other resources developed and provided as a part of the This Is Statistics campaign are engaging and great for responding to this question. Devan Mehrotra, work group member and associate vice president at Merck Research Laboratories, guided the group’s efforts in this area and helped identify additional resources while highlighting the importance of focusing on the required skills and knowledge so students recognize the breadth of opportunities. As Devan commented in a U.S. News and World Report article “People need statisticians, folks with the right level of training, who ask the relevant questions, who know how much data should be collected and know how to employ statistical principles.” Please share your suggestions for articles, videos, and other resources that we should include on the new site.

      Outreach is definitely a community effort, and the work group was fortunate to be able to collaborate with Jesse Chittams, chair of the ASA Committee on Minorities in Statistics, who has a member initiative focused on equipping the present generation with the resources necessary to make significant inroads into this rapidly evolving job market. The resources developed as part of his initiative will be part of the outreach website.

      We have highlighted the work of the outreach group by identifying the group members who have led various efforts. But, there is another important contributor: you. We need your help to build a speakers bureau that meets the requests for presentation.

      Whether volunteering for the speakers bureau, proactively reaching out to local AP Statistics classrooms, mentoring students and teachers using the ASA K–12 outreach activities, or providing other ideas or comments, we welcome your involvement. There are also opportunities for college students to get involved in service learning by visiting classrooms or providing mentoring. Looking to the future, we want to continue to develop these resources and reach out to other interested groups. Please let ASA Director of Education Rebecca Nichols and ASA Director of Strategic Initiatives and Outreach Donna LaLonde know your ideas for growing our outreach efforts. With your help, we can promote the practice and profession of statistics and get more students interested in pursuing a career in statistics or studying statistics to enhance their preparation for whatever career field they pursue.

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