Document Type


Presentation Date


Conference Name

2012 Joint Statistical Meetings

Conference Location

San Diego, CA


In a typical elementary statistics course, students are introduced to four major areas in the following order: a brief introduction to sampling methods and designing experiments, descriptive statistics, probability, and inferential statistics. In these areas, students learn several concepts such as different types of data, mean, standard deviation, area under a normal curve, confidence intervals, and hypothesis testing. A typical student is also expected to do standard problems based on the above topics. Many students learn to “do” the problems by doing several problems of a similar type, often belonging to precisely one area. Although repetition is an important part of the learning process, this skill-and-drill approach does not address the critical thinking objectives that we desire. In addition, with a diverse general education audience, the instructor often faces challenges of teaching students who are underprepared, lack confidence in their own abilities, and do not see the relevance of the subject.

Several questions are worth discussion: 1) What is the fundamental definition of statistics used in the course, 2) Are students presented the content in an integrated manner? 3) Are students prepared to do a complete project or problem which involves all five areas: a) designing an experiment, b) collecting data, c) calculating and interpreting meaningful descriptive values and plotting appropriate graphs, d) performing an appropriate analysis, e) followed by conclusions? 4) What teaching approach promotes critical thinking and appreciation for statistical applications? 5) How do we address the challenges associated with a diverse student population?

With the above questions in mind, we propose to adopt a different approach in an elementary statistics class targeting the general education audience. The concepts will be addressed through an activity-based approach. In this approach, the content will emerge as students work on carefully selected context-rich problems and projects which can be addressed through multiple perspectives. In this paper the authors discuss the course design process, and the decisions made to address the course objective. The order of the topics and the amount of emphasis, along with the nature of activities, assessment methods, and other such related issues are revisited in the light of the activity-based approach.


statistics education


Statistics and Probability