As we face another year of unpredictability triggered by the global pandemic and other factors, perhaps the only thing we can be certain of is that the future is uncertain. An ability to digest data and derive insights from it can equip a person to make sound decisions for everything from purchasing a new car, to interpreting the news, to deciding what college to attend. But this deluge of data throughout daily life can be overwhelming and even lead to false conclusions if a person doesn’t have the appropriate skills. Are your students ready?
A student who is data literate and understands how to apply statistical concepts can review sets of data with confidence, observe patterns, assess what is and is not significant, and come away with insights that inform their understanding and actions.
Further, a strong statistics foundation will be essential for careers in the data-driven economy. Statistics skills are in high demand in almost any field, and careers in statistics offer satisfying work-life balance and earn salaries well above average. The field is projected to grow by 35 percent from 2019 to 2029, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Year after year, these trends have consistently landed statisticians a spot on many career rankings lists.
Challenges for teachers
While attaining statistical literacy is an increasingly important goal, helping students meet this goal is challenging.
Statistics—the science of learning from data—is complex and holistic, and it can be challenging to ensure a class is engaged and applying statistical analysis correctly. Further, many teachers do not feel their training and resources have adequately equipped them to lead students in sound statistical analysis.
Fortunately, there are ample resources available to help teachers navigate and overcome these barriers and bring statistical literacy to the classroom.
How to bring statistical literacy to the classroom
1. Borrow from other educators
Numerous resources are available to teachers looking to bring more statistics to their classroom. The ASA’s Pre-K-12 Guidelines for Assessment and Instruction in Statistics Education II (GAISE II) report is a great resource. This is Statistics’ Digital Classroom Resources list is another useful reference, as is NCTM’s resource page.
Teachers can also find free or low-cost statistical analytics tools online that can help students dig deeper into their statistical exploration.
2. Join a community
Teachers might feel they are alone in their struggles to teach statistics, but they aren’t! Connecting with other educators seeking to bring statistical literacy to their classrooms is an incredible way to gain support, tackle challenges, find tools, and identify creative solutions that will help build their confidence and skills to teach statistical literacy.
The American Statistical Association (ASA), the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), and the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMTE) have groups dedicated to this pursuit.
3. Use datasets that are relevant to the classroom
One way to ensure a dataset is interesting for students is to have students engage in data collection themselves. This is an excellent way to introduce students to best practices for data collection and explore what conclusions can be generalized from data and what limitations might be present.
For a good starting point, look no further than Census at School, which guides students step by step as they collect their own data and compare their results with other samples of students from across the country and the world.
Another option is the Census Bureau’s Statistics in Schools (SIS) program. SIS uses real Census Bureau statistics to create resources tying into subjects ranging from math, to geography, to English and more, all designed by educators with statistical literacy in mind.
4. Foster analytical discussions
A teacher can introduce their students to statistical thinking by guiding them in a discussion about what a dataset reveals. Open-ended questions that encourage them to think deeper can help them build critical thinking skills for statistical analysis in their own lives.
ASA and The New York Times Learning Network’s “What’s Going on in This Graph” offers a great framework, sharing a new data visualization each week that has been stripped of its contextual information. Students’ challenge: Determine what’s going on in the graph from the clues it contains.
5. Introduce a class challenge
When students work together on a common challenge, they can learn from each other and also spread their wings. Plenty of contests for students, both for individuals and teams, already exist. Three easy options for high school and college students: This is Statistics spring contest and fall data challenge and ASA’s DataFest.
By exploring these datasets and challenges together, a teacher can build a strong foundation for their students’ submissions.
6. Read statistics books and publications
Whether a teacher is looking to deepen their own understanding of statistics or inspire their whole class, there are many readable and entertaining books available. Classics include Dear Data, The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, Focus on Statistics: Investigations for the Integration of Statistics into Grades 9-12 Mathematics Classrooms, The Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century, and The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t. Books like Moneyball, which show students the unexpected ways they can change the world through statistics, can also be inspiring.
Books aren’t the only great resources. Statistics Teacher is an online journal from ASA and NCTM dedicated to supporting teachers and providing statistics education resources, including lesson plans.
Statistical literacy prepares students for promising futures
Statistical literacy equips students with important skills to navigate their lives and set them up for promising, successful careers. ASA and NCTM are committed to ensuring that teachers have the support they need to bring statistics into their classrooms. With these activities, tools, and resources, any teacher will be well on their way to inspiring students—and maybe also themselves.
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