Serving through Statistics

Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.

~ Matthew 20:26-28

I wanted to do things a little differently with my AP Statistics spring project this year. I found in the past that the cumulative project I assigned in the spring (where students designed an experiment, collected data, and used a statistical inference procedure to draw conclusions) just didn’t hold their interest, and therefore the projects didn’t reflect the students’ best work. You have to keep in mind these are high school seniors getting ready to graduate, their GPA is pretty much set in stone regardless of their grade on this project, and they have already taken (and passed, I hope) the AP Stat exam. For some reason they didn’t want to go the extra mile on this stat project simply because it was an interesting application of statistics. Weird right?

Wrong.

Looking back, as a student I would probably approach the project with the same indifferent attitude. The solution? Make the project something truly meaningful that the students have a vested interest in. Of course this is easier said than done. As I racked my brain thinking of ideas I was blessed to receive this notice from PRIMUS (which I posted here on GodandMath):

The journal  PRIMUS announces a special issue on Service-Learning. Kelly Black, Karl-Dieter Crisman, and Dick Jardine will be guest editing the special issue, inspired by a MAA Contributed Paper Session on this topic at the Joint Meetings in 2011.

Service-Learning connects service to the community with academically-based learning. This is a growing concern on college campuses, sometimes even a mandate, but the mathematical sciences are often seen as a more challenging environment to bring service into the classroom.  In particular, there are only a few resources widely available on this topic specifically geared toward collegiate mathematics.  This PRIMUS special issue aims to provide a significant addition to this literature, with a number of tested ideas in a single volume as a pedagogical resource.

I thought a service-learning project would a be a great way for students to apply what they have learned in the classroom to their local community, and all in the context of serving – a Christian maxim that is easy to sell in a public school environment.

After a quick Google search I cam across the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse and their Mathematics resources. This was a valuable resource for me in planning out this project (especially Mark C. Hampton’s Introduction to Statistics syllabus).

I presented the idea to my students and I was amazed to see how excited they became over the project. They quickly determined the focus of their study: evaluating the aid provided to victims of Texas wildfires from last summer. The wildfires had come through our county and affected the lives of many of the students, their family, and their friends. I believe the ownership the students felt in selecting a topic so close to their hearts, as well as the incentive of presenting their results publicly (a commitment was made at the beginning of the project to present the results before the city council and to publish them in the local paper), truly made the project more meaningful. This resulted in motivated and dedicated students, new and interesting learning opportunities, and one amazed teacher.

I knew my students were awesome, but this brought it to a whole new level.

For more details on the organization and implementation of the project I invite you to visit Navasota ISD’s Teaching and Learning Blog for a nice write-up. Below is a video that the district so graciously put together:

I also had the fortune of being a finalist for the HEB Excellence in Education Awards. As part of the awards program, a film crew surprised me in my classroom and did an impromptu interview on this project. Below is their completed video:

If you would like more details, I will be giving a presentation over this project at CAMT (Conference for Advancement in Mathematics Teaching) this summer. Here is a link to the online catalog with the description of “Serving through Statistics.” Below are the mathematical/pedagogical goals of this presentation:

The goal of this presentation is to equip participants with the tools to successfully implement a project that synthesizes the major concepts of AP Statistics: experimental design, data analysis, and statistical inference. Through this project students will 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.

My hope is to implement more projects like this next year and to begin expanding them to the other subjects I teach.

Geometry, I have you in my sights…with this idea.

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