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Ask Slashdot: Resources For Explaining Statistics For the Very First Time? ( 90

theodp writes: Teaching multivariate statistics to college students, writes AnnMaria De Mars, was a piece of cake compared to her current project — making a game to teach statistics to middle school students who have never been exposed to the idea. In the interest of making a better game, De Mars asks, "Here's my question to you, oh reader people, what resources have you found useful for teaching statistics? I mean, resources you have really watched or used and thought, 'Hey, this would be great for teaching?' There is a lot of mediocre, boring stuff on the interwebz and if any of you could point me to what you think rises above the rest, I'd be super appreciative." Larry Gonick's The Cartoon Guide to Statistics is pretty amazing, but is it a little too advanced for this age group? Anyone have experience with the Khan Academy Data and Statistics offerings? Any other ideas?
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Ask Slashdot: Resources For Explaining Statistics For the Very First Time?

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  • M&M Fun Packs (Score:2, Insightful)

    This was for a college course, but should work for middle school students too. I distributed fun packs of M&Ms to my students and had them count the number of each color and the total number of pieces in each pack. Nice illustration of mean, median, and mode, and a good lead-in to a discussion of variation.
    • You can add "how many team members are lying about not eating the M&Ms."

    • Re:M&M Fun Packs (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Xest ( 935314 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @11:19AM (#51158629)

      I think the problem is that statistics is a far more detailed and complicated topic than that, and that the sort of thing you suggested is the sort of thing that's already taught well, but such a tiny miniscule tip of the iceberg that it's the rest of it that needs be taught.

      I agree with the person below who mentioned intuition, mostly the biggest problem I see when it comes to statistics amongst people of every age and group is that very few people seem to grasp the issues that may face a statistical result. People in general struggle to understand what the numbers actually mean, they're hopeless at figuring out what confounding factors may exist in a result.

      So might I suggest a decent idea might be to find some bad statistical studies and create some exercises that help them understand why they're bad. The examples don't need to be difficult, but should be varied to help them understand why correlation does not mean causation, and why causation doesn't even necessarily imply (at least linear) correlation amongst other things.

      Wikipedia's list would probably provide a reasonable starting point for some examples to cover: []

      I'd suggest, that by teaching kids how to question statistics, and how to spot when someone is using statistics to spout bullshit (which you'll find happens all the fucking time, basically every single day of your life if you're adept at spotting it) they'll be better placed to learn how to do statistics properly.

      If they know how to tell when a result is wrong, they'll hopefully be encouraged to find out how to do it right, and how to mitigate these issues. I think without ever learning to recognise how people do statistics wrong on a daily basis, it's hard to know how to do it right, and so the issue just proliferates.

      • "... teaching kids how to question statistics, and how to spot when someone is using statistics to spout bullshit"

        This is exactly what needs to be taught! Shysters keep spouting BS because it generally works.

    • This is probably only for the older students, but a good one for sparking interest is the Monty Hall problem. It has a fun narrative (if you use the goat and car), and you can set up a mock game show with some students as the contestants to get them interested. You can walk through how the game works, and then debate whether it is better to change your choice or not to maximise your chance of getting the car. Once everyone has decided, you can then run a live simulation by giving each student a turn playing
    • by dj245 ( 732906 )

      This was for a college course, but should work for middle school students too. I distributed fun packs of M&Ms to my students and had them count the number of each color and the total number of pieces in each pack. Nice illustration of mean, median, and mode, and a good lead-in to a discussion of variation.

      I was going to suggest exactly this. Over 20 years ago I had a teacher use this on me in the 2nd grade. You can cover anything from basic counting and arithmetic (K-4) all the way up to standard deviations and bell curves (High school). Did it make an impression? It must have since I still remember doing it.

      The candy trick isn't just for math either. You can hand out random fun size candies and then teach economics. For small children, the lessons can be about sharing and trading in a general sense.

    • For several years I've bought regular sized packs of Skittles for my students to do a "goodness of fit" test for a uniform distribution among the colors; that is, does the Skittles manufacturer distribute more Skittles of a particular color over others? I buy packs of Skittles for each student, and have them count the total number in the pack, as well as the number of each color (red, orange, purple, green, yellow). (Incidentally, the experimental average over the years has been around 61 total Skittles i
  • by nucrash ( 549705 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @11:00AM (#51158499)

    Khan Academy is probably the first thing I would choose.

    An election year is always a good year to look at statistics because Nate Silver is always looking for trends.

    Basic Statistics, you could use sports easily. Take the local high school teams and compare how they do to others and what their ratio of hits or misses are for their sport of choice.

    Use their own past history in courses to determine how they will do in future courses. A history professor was pointing out that of those students in her class, those who looked at a specific resource had performed the best.

    Using something that relates to the students in their day to day lives or at least something they find interesting to teach statistics will most likely yield the best results.

  • by Daimanta ( 1140543 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @11:01AM (#51158501) Journal

    As somebody who likes to teach math privately to people I recommend one thing first and foremost: Intuition. In mathematics, intuition is often thrown under the carpet as distracting from playing with mathematical concepts but in order to understand mathematics, you need to understand WHY people made formulas the way they do. As a result, students often have a 'see monkey, do monkey' mentality while having no true understanding of the topic. People with even less understanding aren't even able to replicate the desired results.

    In general, the less the student has a feeling for mathematics, the more you need to teach intuition first and formulas later. Math students are of course required to have a higher level of understand, but this is obvious.

    • Intuition is good for math, but bad for statistics. Just search for how bad even statisticians are at answering common problems like the Monty Hall problem. We just suck at it, primarily because we can not imagine combinatorics well.

      • Intuition is good for math, but bad for statistics. Just search for how bad even statisticians are at answering common problems like the Monty Hall problem. We just suck at it, primarily because we can not imagine combinatorics well.

        "We're bad at X" is not a reason for not teaching X, but a damn good reason for actually teaching it.

  • First of all, don't call it statistics.

    Just give them some fun game where they need to decide whether green Gabroans from the planet Gabroa are more or less likely to be wearing hats than other Gabroans based on the (relatively small) sample they have seen.

    Reward them accordingly.

    It's all about observing thing. It's the best method we have for determining things about the world from out imperfect observations. It's exciting stuff!

    Why has statistics become synonymous with "that boring course you have to take

  • by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @11:10AM (#51158571) Journal

    What is there in statistics to make someone of that age care about it?

    Teach them some dice based game, get them to play each other and mix in some loaded dice at random.

    Tell them half way through and get them to figure out who is the cheat. Naturally they won't get it right as intuition about statistics is usually poor, but your job is to guide them into the right direction.

  • by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @11:26AM (#51158663)

    Lies, damned lies, and statistics.,_damned_lies,_and_statistics []

  • by LifesABeach ( 234436 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @11:27AM (#51158667) Homepage
    Statistics is best learned using a "Hands On" approach. It is a difficult subject for middle school students. An example lesson is to ask a relevant class question and then use the class data to teach what ever the topic is.

    The professors of the California Math Project have access to a variety of practices and resources for teaching middle school math.

    Try these resources; the National Counsel of Teachers of Mathematics,(NCTM), the Illustrative Mathematics web site, and "The Teaching Channel". These web sites have teaching activities and resources for middle school math
  • by ls671 ( 1122017 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @11:30AM (#51158691) Homepage

    Here, teach them this, they should find this very interesting:

    Imaginary Number Probability in Bayesian-type Inference []

  • I've been considering making a tutorial around python, where you generate a fake data set (with something like 7 billion values) and do the following:

    Stage 1: loop over the whole data set and compute the true mean and the true standard deviation.

    Stage 2: Take the same data set, but choose random samples (say N=1000) from the set, and compute estimates of the mean and the standard deviation. You can show how depending on which 1000 elements you choose, you'll get a spread of estimates for both which br
  • by Anonymous Coward

    This was one of the best statistics presentations I have ever seen. With humor and clever drawings, the basic ideas are presented, along with a healthy skepticism which is necessary these days to see the blatant lies and misrepresentations so prevalent in media and politics. If I had to teach statistics to people, I would start with this before touching the underlying math.

    ISBN-10: 0393310728
    Still in print since 1954.

  • ... here is the next book you need : How to Lie with Statistics ;) []
  • Then teach them how to calculate the odds of getting a winning hand. Make the poker chips tootsie rolls, or naked selfies of classmates, or something else kids like.
    • Not just odds of a winning hand, but rather, the chances of a hand someone else has of being a better hand.

  • Specifically, poker and Yahtzee.

    What's the likelihood of drawing a 2 or a Club, etc.

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      Amen! Many people like gambling and cards, and relating that to statistics will draw their attention.

      Maybe also explain gambling addiction and show why it usually doesn't pay. Statistics can help them understand why it's a dead-end.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Seriously - if you want to teach intuition with statistical models - and why most media published statistics are horribly developed - this is the book. The principle bits you get out of the book: Correlation does not imply causation - a HUGE intuitive bit of knowledge to debunk a LOT of what the media throws out there.

    You know, 99.3% of all convicted criminals, in one form or another, have eaten a tomato! (Yes, ketchup and pizza sauce count)
    100% of

  • by seawall ( 549985 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @11:57AM (#51158903)

    Just a few thoughts:

    There is a real advantage to back in the day: parametric statistics needs calculus but a lot of modern statistics
    are more simulation-based so that could be stressed. Easier to understand (or at least less difficult) and usually
    more accurate. Parametric statistics can wait.

    Some appropriate subset of "How to Lie with Statistics" might be apropos early on and throughout the time spent.
    It's practical information in life, gives a deeper understanding and is relatively fun. Care needs to be taken that this
    isn't taken as "All Statistics Lie".

    Consider bringing in language teachers for help. The words in statistics often have a subtle (or huge) difference
    from common usage and they may be able to help with that. I had a mathematics background when I started statistics
    and wasted a lot of time in early days because "variable" meant something different than what I was used to.

  • by Whelen. He has a lot of good examples you could adopt for your class; although I wouldn't recommend using the book in class.
    • I misunderstood your sig:

      I'm a consultant - I convert gibberish into cash-flow.

      I didn't realise initially that you meant cash flow for yourself rather than your customers.

  • by JohnnyDanger ( 680986 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @12:02PM (#51158943)
    Great for beginners.

    Also includes more advanced ideas, like Bayes' Theorem and Central Limit Theorem, but presented conceptually. [] [] []

  • dropping many balls through a triangle of pins and watching them fall into a bell-curve pattern. Called a "galton machine" apparently []
  • I see a lot of elementary school students calculating mode and median and ranges with very little motivation. You may have some raw tools available just because of the way curriculum has taken the thread out of learning.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'm not an expert but I found the Manga guide to be more useful than Gonnick's cartoon guide. It's amazing that there are multiple comic books that teach these subjects.

  • Rather than diving in with a bunch of jargon and equations (which they will need to learn eventually), start with some simple questions about how statistics are actually used and then teach them how to apply statistics correctly

    E.g.: If I have flipped a coin five times and they all came up heads, what are the odds of the next flip being heads? Versus: What are the odds of six coin flips all coming up heads?

  • Not exactly what you were asking for, but, as others have pointed out, getting them to be interested or care is a major part of it. So you might go over statistics as used in big league sports. Would the movie Moneyball be over their heads?

  • Baseball especially is jam-packed full of stats, and most kids that age are into baseball (or some other sport that makes use of statistics). You won't get into the complex stuff like permutations or z-scores, but it's a good way to teach the simple stuff like averages, difference between expectation (probability) and prediction, and some of the wackier stuff that can arise from just those simple stats like the Pirates beating the Yankees in the 1960 World Series [] even though the Yankees destroyed the Pirat []
  • As a kid, I liked to keep a drawer full of socks of various colors. It's endless fun to figure out the minimum number of socks I'll need to take out of the drawer, in the dark, to be sure I have a matching pair.

  • I learned statistics in elementary school. Admittedly, it was 6th grade, at a science & tech magnet, but that's still elementary school.

    Our teacher, Mr. Vance separated us into groups of about 2 or 3, and gave each group a bag of m&ms. We had to count how many there were of each color, and report our numbers back. There were three classes doing this, as we rotated between science, math & english through the day.

    On the first few days, we only dealt with our own classes' numbers. (I want to sa

  • From The World of Statistical Humor! []: Did you hear about the statistician who had his head in an oven and his feet in a bucket of ice? When asked how he felt, he replied, "On the average I feel just fine."

  • Statistics is a mathematical filter we use on raw data to extract meaning. So give the students some raw data (a field full of virtual people; a forest full of trees and animals; a toy chest full of different toys, a crowd of video game characters) and give them statistical filters and widgets they can drag over these seas of data to extract information.

    • - Drag a 'Plants' filter over the forest to eliminate the fauna (visually the deer and rabbits vanish as well), then drop an Weight bar chart on it to show
  • New Scientist's latest book offering is called Chance: The science and secrets of luck, randomness and probability.

    I haven't seen it myself but it seems like it might contain material useful to you.

  • ... choosing a text book and working through it from chapter 1 to chapter 20?

    Or, of course, if you've written a textbook yourself, getting a colleague to require it for his course 100 miles away, while you recommend her text book.

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