World Leading Statistics Education

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The only talk at the Royal Statistical Society's (RSS) World Statistics Day event in London on October 20 was given by Professor Chris Wild, below (top), Dr Maxine Pfannkuch and Matt Regan, all from the University of Auckland. The RSS says the paper “is set to transform the international landscape of statistical education”.

The invitation to speak recognises the innovative and very visual ways they have developed for students to think about their data, and the underpinning research supporting developments in the New Zealand school statistics curriculum.

The New Zealanders will also feature strongly
at the society’s fourth International CensusAtSchool Workshop in Plymouth the week after, launching the RSS’ ten-year statistical literacy campaign in the UK.
The recognition also reflects international excit
ement about the new curriculum.“The involvement of professional statisticians, researchers, teacher developers and lead teachers in developing the secondary school statistics curriculum is unique in New Zealand,” says Wild.

“New Zealand is leading in curriculum scope, meeting students’ future practical needs in work and life, and in how it represents data. International software developers want to work with our Ministry of Education, because they anticipate other countries drawing from the country’s statistics curriculum and want their software to be part of it.”

Says Pfannkuch:“Statistics in the curriculum is fairly new in many countries, and usually a lot less developed than in New Zealand. The majority of people trying to deal with statistics run into mathematical roadblocks; we can use visual methods to avoid them.

“Data imaging software can help teenagers to understand patterns in data, and allows teachers to introduce statistics concepts to younger students. We are aiming for students to make inferences about the world without taking their eyes off their data animations, so the connections between question, data and answers are immediate and obvious.

“Looking at the world using data”, says Wild,“is like looking through a rippled glass window. What we see is not quite the way it really is. Statistical inference is about how to take that into account.”

Pfannkuch, with Pip Arnold, leads a project called Building Students’ Inferential Reasoning, developing classroom implementations of new statistics learning in Years 10 and 11 with a team of eight teachers. Students use new hands-on activities and data animations, reinforced by physical gestures, to learn how to take sample size and variability into account when making inferences.

“Statistics was largely taught descriptively; now we’re putting in the conceptual underpinnings,” she says. The new curriculum focuses on fundamental thinking about questions and interpretation of the data, rather than the mechanical aspects that computers can do. “Some of these data visualisations allow students to compare samples of 10, 100 and 1,000 to see the effect of sample size on the stability of estimates.”

The Census At School New Zealand project, run by the University of Auckland Statistics Department, and supported by Statistics New Zealand and the Ministry of Education, enables students to collect data about themselves every two years.

“Because the data is about them they are interested and engaged,” says Pfannkuch.“They understand the background, and can hypothesize about why things turn out the way they do. Also, because they contribute their own data, they know what can go wrong and they can pick up dirty data. Learning data cleaning is also new at the school level.”

In a world where every sports game presents statistics, and every health article mentions health risks, where Google and other web applications are massive users of statistics, and surveys and polls monitor all kinds of activity, the New Zealand curriculum should improve young people’s ability to participate in decisions and social debates about evidence.The RSS shares this goal – hence its 10-year statistics literacy campaign, getstats.

See also
RSS talk (pdf)

Talk animations

Get Stats main site

Data animations illustrating the UN Millennium Development Goals