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#243160  06/22/18 04:52 AM
Making Statistics Attractive to Students

Member
Registered: 02/14/10
Posts: 2593
Loc: MA

The field of machine learning, especially the subfield of deep learning (neural networks with several hidden layers), has exploded in popularity. There is considerable overlap between machine learning and statistics, and when reading books on machine learning, I sometimes wonder why relevant theorems and models from statistics are being ignored. I took a course on statistics in high school in the late 1980s in high school, and it was boring. I never considered majoring in statistics in college, although I liked math, and I know think it would have been a better major for me than physics, which I did study. AP Statistics does not require a background in calculus, and students do not use a statistical programming language such as R during the class. I wonder if it is a good course for students who are good at math and programming (or could be good at the latter if exposed to it.) With that preamble, let me mention an essay from 2014 I just read: Statistics: Losing Ground to CS, Losing Image Among Students by Norman Matloff ...
Making Statistics Attractive to Students
This of course is an ageold problem in Stat. Let’s face it–the very word statistics sounds hopelessly dull. But I would argue that a more modern development is making the problem a lot worse – the Advanced Placement (AP) Statistics courses in high schools.
Professor XiaoLi Meng has written extensively about the destructive nature of AP Stat. He observed, “Among Harvard undergraduates I asked, the most frequent reason for not considering a statistical major was a ‘turnoff’ experience in an AP statistics course.” That says it all, doesn’t it? And though Meng’s views predictably sparked defensive replies in some quarters, I’ve had exactly the same experiences as Meng in my own interactions with students. No wonder students would rather major in a field like CS and study machine learning–without realizing it is Statistics. It is especially troubling that Statistics may be losing the “best and brightest” students.
One of the major problems is that AP Stat is usually taught by people who lack depth in the subject matter. A typical example is that a student complained to me that his AP Stat teacher could not answer his question as to why it is customary to use n1 rather than n in the denominator of s^2 , even though he had attended a topquality high school in the heart of Silicon Valley. But even that lapse is really minor, compared to the lack among the AP teachers of the broad overview typically possessed by Stat professors teaching university courses, in terms of what can be done with Stat, what the philosophy is, what the concepts really mean and so on. AP courses are ostensibly college level, but the students are not getting collegelevel instruction. The “teach to the test” syndrome that pervades AP courses in general exacerbates this problem.
The most exasperating part of all this is that AP Stat officially relies on TI83 pocket calculators as its computational vehicle. The machines are expensive, and after all we are living in an age in which R is free! Moreover, the calculators don’t have the capabilities of dazzling graphics and analyzing of nontrivial data sets that R provides – exactly the kinds of things that motivate young people.
So, unlike the “CS usurpation problem,” whose solution is unclear, here is something that actually can be fixed reasonably simply. If I had my druthers, I would simply ban AP Stat, and actually, I am one of those people who would do away with the entire AP program. Obviously, there are too many deeply entrenched interests for this to happen, but one thing that can be done for AP Stat is to switch its computational vehicle to R.
As noted, R is free and is multi platform, with outstanding graphical capabilities. There is no end to the number of data sets teenagers would find attractive for R use, say the Million Song Data Set.
As to a textbook, there are many introductions to Statistics that use R, such as Michael Crawley’s Statistics: An Introduction Using R, and Peter Dalgaard’s Introductory Statistics Using R. But to really do it right, I would suggest that a group of Stat professors collaboratively write an opensource text, as has been done for instance for Chemistry. Examples of interest to high schoolers should be used, say this engaging analysis on OK Cupid.
This is not a complete solution by any means. There still is the issue of AP Stat being taught by people who lack depth in the field, and so on. And even switching to R would meet with resistance from various interests, such as the College Board and especially the AP Stat teachers themselves.
But given all these weighty problems, it certainly would be nice to do something, right? Switching to R would be doable–and should be done.

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#243219  07/01/18 11:54 AM
Re: Making Statistics Attractive to Students
[Re: Bostonian]

Member
Registered: 02/08/11
Posts: 1425

At least at our school, AP Stats as a class is sort of a joke  it's an easy course and more meant for those who can't handle AP Calculus BC. That is why my kids will likely not take it. I took stats in college in the 80's and it required some calculus and included some programming and was definitely more advanced than second semester calculus.

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#243221  07/01/18 12:51 PM
Re: Making Statistics Attractive to Students
[Re: Bostonian]

Member
Registered: 09/29/11
Posts: 3361

I didn't take any statistics until my 3rd year of college, at a highly respected engineering school, where statistics was calculusbased and taught by an (ancient) expert. It was still boring! It wasn't until I was out in the working world and actually using statistics to understand my work that I realized it can be quite fascinating... I think that's how many things work in life though polarbear

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#243228  07/01/18 08:06 PM
Re: Making Statistics Attractive to Students
[Re: Bostonian]

Member
Registered: 05/26/12
Posts: 235

At our school AP stats is usually taken after BC generally senior year. Some kids takte both senior year.
Edited by nicoledad (07/01/18 08:07 PM)

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#243229  07/01/18 08:10 PM
Re: Making Statistics Attractive to Students
[Re: Bostonian]

Member
Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 680
Loc: controlled chaos

I've heard that AP Stats is painfully boring and annoying for kids who have already studied Calculus. My daughter took BC Calc this year and was looking for another math class for next year. Her calculus teacher and the principal both warned her away from AP Stats because the class does not use calculus. My daughter is taking IB HL II instead even though she isn't in the IB program. It was the only other option that didn't require her taking a higher level math class off campus at one of the local colleges.

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#243230  07/01/18 08:22 PM
Re: Making Statistics Attractive to Students
[Re: Bostonian]

Member
Registered: 05/17/09
Posts: 592

My kid is taking AP Statistics after BC in his junior year because there are no more math courses at his high school. He will also be taking AP Physics C, so at least that will use a bit of calculus.
He also took AP Econ for fun this past year. He thought it was funny how they oversimplified everything in order to avoid very basic calculus.

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#243231  07/01/18 08:46 PM
Re: Making Statistics Attractive to Students
[Re: Bostonian]

Member
Registered: 04/26/14
Posts: 3557

I learned my statistics in the context of a moderately statsheavy experimental science grad program, not in a formal stats course, but in a content course. That was actually a fun setting for learning stats. I did follow it up a few years later with a formal social science stats course, which admittedly was most entertaining for its peoplewatching opportunities.
I would definitely agree that it helps considerably to contextualize stats. And that that is true for most academic topics.

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#243233  07/02/18 04:35 AM
Re: Making Statistics Attractive to Students
[Re: knute974]

Member
Registered: 02/14/10
Posts: 2593
Loc: MA

My daughter is taking IB HL II instead even though she isn't in the IB program. It was the only other option that didn't require her taking a higher level math class off campus at one of the local colleges.
I am unfamiliar with the IB program  our school system does not offer it. I see the curriculum for an IB HL 2 class here and see that the book "Mathematics for the International Student: IB Diploma HL Core, 2nd Edition" (2008) is available used from Amazon for about $25 (there is a 3rd edition). Thanks to everyone who replied.

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#243235  07/02/18 06:27 AM
Re: Making Statistics Attractive to Students
[Re: Bostonian]

Member
Registered: 05/26/12
Posts: 235

My daughter said of all the juniors in her class (my daughter was a sophomore) only one kid was taking Multivariable calculus senior year, The rest of the class, including herself, are taking AP stats.

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#243236  07/02/18 07:19 AM
Re: Making Statistics Attractive to Students
[Re: Bostonian]

Member
Registered: 01/01/10
Posts: 263

One of my kids took AP Stats after completing Calc BC, in addition to more advanced Calculus. A friend of mine whose kid is a few years older referred to AP Stats as "AP Study Hall" and that name stuck in our house....

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