From the Classroom to the Community (and back again): Stories of Statistics, Significance, and Service

This week I am giving two different talks at the 2015 Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Antonio, TX. What follows is information relating to the second talk. You can find my first talk here. My first talk was on cultivating mathematical affections – how we can change the way we understand affect in math education to produce students who value their mathematical experiences. My second talk is actually one practical example that can you can implement in the classroom to instill in students an appreciation of mathematics.

This talk was for a session on best practices for teaching introductory statistics. The focus of my talk was on integrating service-learning projects into the statistics curriculum, a topic that I have written about numerous times here at GodandMath. In addition to the resources that you will find below, feel free to check out some of the prior posts on service learning:

  • Serving through Statistics: the first (and largest) service project that I implemented complete with video summaries and interview with students.
  • AP Stat Reading Best Practices Presentation: Short presentation I gave on service learning in AP Statistics at the 2014 AP Statistics Reading in Kansas City, MO.
  • CAMT 2012 Presentation: Presentation I gave at the Conference for the Advancement of Mathematics Teaching based on the first statistics service-learning project mentioned above.
  • Geometry and the Homeless: the first service-learning project I did with my geometry students. An updated version from this last school year should find its way onto the site by mid summer.

ABSTRACT:

This presentation will outline the design, implementation, and evaluation of service-learning based statistics projects in which students partner with non-profit organizations in their local community. These projects synthesize the major concepts of experimental design, data analysis, and statistical inference in the real-world context of community service. Through these projects students integrate their conceptual understanding of statistics with the practical functioning of their local community, ultimately gaining a deeper appreciation for the role statistics plays in the organization and evaluation of service societies. Successful examples and practical resources will be provided.

PRESENTATION:

Below you will find the PowerPoint that accompanied my short 10 minute presentation (click on the image below to access the PowerPoint). Due to time constraints, the meat of the information can be found in the resource documents that I have also included below.

serving

OUTLINE:

The main question I aim to address  is this: what is the best resource that a teacher can introduce into his/her statistics classroom to help students make meaningful connections between course material and the true value of statistics?

I don’t think it is technology (be that calculators, iPhone apps, online applets, or statistical software packages) which is often discussed as a teaching aid in statistics. I don’t even think that is integrating current articles and published studies into classroom discussion.

Don’t get me wrong, both technology and current events can be powerful pedagogical tools and there certainly is a place for them in the classroom. As a teacher who regularly uses technology and “real-life” articles in my lessons, I would like to submit to you that there is actually something else, something better, that when used well can really cement the value of statistics in the hearts and minds of students. That something: service-learning. As it turns out, I think the best resource that you can introduce into a statistics classroom is to actually get the students out of the classroom and into the local community.

Why I think service-learning is an effective vehicle for communicating the significance and value of statistics to students:

  1. Students are actually doing statistics. 
    • There is something about the physical practice of getting outside the classroom to collect and analyze data that implants an appreciation for the processes of statistics into students.
  2. Students are actually doing statistics in an unfamiliar/uncomfortable (read: human) way.
    • In service-learning there is interaction with actual human beings. The data on the paper now has a face and the analysis becomes a little messier and less clinical. I find this tends to stretch students out of their comfort zone in a good way. It also encourages their focus to shift from individualistic outcomes (such as what grade they might receive) to more altruistic aims of education.
  3. Students are actually doing statistics in an unfamiliar/uncomfortable (read: human) way and they (as well as the community) are experiencing firsthand the fruits of their labor.
    • I require students to complete their project by giving an oral presentation to the service agency. Interpreting confidence intervals/levels, p-values, and significance levels becomes so much more meaningful to students when they have to explain these concepts to a service-agency and build connections for the agency as to what to do with this information practically moving forward.

DESIGN:

  • A non-profit service agency which requires survey research for program evaluation, grant applications, or client needs assessment is identified by the students.
  • Students will participate in a group which will provide the following services:
    • Meeting with agency and developing a survey instrument
    • Piloting and conducting survey*
    • Compiling, organizing, and analyzing data
    • Presenting final results to the agency
  • The teacher acts as a consulting facilitator outside of the direct chain of project command

KEYS TO SUCCESS:

  • The Power of Choice
    • Students have a vested interest in a personal topic
    • “How can we apply the concepts learned in statistics to benefit our local community/service agencies?”
  • Meaningful Applications
    • Real life scenario with real people
    • The “Aha Moment” – Deep connections drawn from course material to project implementation
  • Improving Civic Mindset, Professionalism, and Presentation Skills
    • Obligation is to the community/organization, not just a grade
    • Comfort levels stretched through community interaction
  • Required Reflection Beyond Calculations
    • Students chose the topic so they have to defend why it matters
    • Importance of statistics cemented

NEED FOR REFLECTION:

  • “Some people may think that this reflection process refers to a kind of ‘touchy-feely’ exercise that might be quite foreign to the mathematics classroom. I prefer to think of it as the processing of a rather complex set of experiences to assure that students share and solidify their insights and thus obtain maximum lasting benefits. This has actually been one of the most important contributions of the service-learning initiative.”
    • Hadlock (2005)
  • “Service-learning in its most effective and well-developed sense is more than another name for ‘real-world learning’ and consists of more than applied work in the public/non-profit sector. It involves a multilayered reflection process that can substantially increase its educational value in a broad sense…. Service-learning reflection asks the learner to become more aware of what he/she brings to the learning process: values, assumptions, biases – many of which are unexamined and potentially problematic….To leave these aspects unexplored would be to miss a vital educational opportunity, for they invariably stir up thoughts and feelings highly deserving of reflection and discussion.”
    • Zlotowski (2005)

Check out the presentation and the resource documents for more information. Always feel free to contact me through this site if you have any further questions or want to discuss the topic in more detail.

RESOURCES:

EXTERNAL RESOURCES:

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