I discussed at some length in my Numbing Numbers post that students from elementary through college have a hard time with number sense and accurately interpreting meaning in numbers and data. Over the few years I have been in education, I have strongly come to believe that a lack of focus on the Probability and Statistics domain in 5-12th grade plays a huge role in this.
Currently, as I am working on my Statistics graduate studies, I am working part-time as a teacher at a nearby school 3 days a week as a math intervention specialist for 7-12th grade, and one topic I have been heavily hammering is number sense and data. It is a small school with only 3 other full-time math teachers, and after speaking with them, it was to my astonishment that none of them were actually going to be addressing probability or statistics at all the entire school year! In fact, the one student who wanted to take AP Statistics is doing it online with my assistance.
And yet, I wasn’t that surprised by it; at the three other school systems I have worked with, I was a part of their district’s curriculum development team at two of them, and both of them squeezed in a cursory talk of probability and statistics in the last few weeks of the year in May, after state testing was already finished, this all despite my objections to change it. (As the low man on the totem pole, you can guess how much influence I truly had!)
But I assert that Probability and Statistics are among the most useful areas of mathematics in this day and age and really dig down into the core of understanding numbers and their interpretation in very relevant situations. For instance, I posed this graph to my students that I copied from a powerpoint on Google:
This graph really begs the question: Are there factors besides race at work in the high school dropout rate? And this sparks a very intelligent and deep discussion about poverty and household structures and so forth, leading to the notion of correlation vs. causation.
Or this one:
This graph catches their attention because it’s a “taboo” topic, and it digs down into the idea of dependent vs. independent variables: Is daily use rising because perceived risk is falling? Why or why not? And this drives the discussion forward.
Of course, as a Statistics lover, I’m biased, but I see this forced confrontation with data to be extremely beneficial to the students’ comfort level with numbers and their meaning. This Attack of the Data thrusts them into the battlefield of strategic thinking and opens new neural pathways that facilitate learning.
As a member of the American Statistical Association, I love their resources with Statistics Teacher, a website focused on K-12+ statistics education, and the page I linked you to is specifically the 9-12+ resources page with very good articles and resources for high school.
I only exist in my day-to-day life in my little bubble of Alabama, but if this microcosm of America is anything indicative of the wider mathematics education community, we really need to focus so much more on the use, interpretation, and the creation of meaningful data, probabilities, and statistics.
Comment, or send me your thoughts to @MathStuart on Twitter. Cheers.