I have been agonizing (all my friends and family will corroborate) about what to say and do on the first day. A lot of the worry has been about how to set the right tone. If we’re going to try to play the whole game (Perkins; Buell), I want the kids to know right away the game we will be playing. Which meant I had to decide what that was: what do I think is most important for them to learn?
Well. I survived the first class. Some things went better than others. But I want to acknowledge here two good decisions I made.
Background: the whole school is going through a re-writing of the mission statement. There is even a mission statement task force, on which I thankfully do not serve. But despite how horrendously dreary and time-wasting mission statements can be, I was surprised that I actually like the new mission statement a lot. It accomplishes its purpose well. With that in mind, could I capture what’s important in a couple of sentences? Make a stat class mission statement?
Here’s what I came up with after thinking about a lot of different (and probably equivalent) ways to carve up the territory:
In this class, you will
- Learn to make effective and valid arguments using data
- Become a critical consumer of data
I like it because it encompasses a lot of what I think is important. I would be happy if my students learned these things and nothing else. And it avoids any of the atomic- and molecular-level learning goals or standards we might set. That is, we can test prospective assessable standards against these two goals. If a standard does not support one of those goals, it’s out.
So that’s one. The other is, where do you put this revelation in the course of the class? For the longest time I had it up front, soon after a title slide. I mean, it’s the top-level organization—it ought to be first, right? Then we could say a few other useful things and then get kids onto the computers so they could experience some of this. (Fathomistas: download 500 Census peeps and do the age/marital-status dance. See illustration.)
But I finally realized—early this morning, of course—what I have told people over and over: play first. So I put the mission statement last. Instead, we did a “what is statistics” brainstorm for five minutes and then went immediately to Fathom and the Census. They worked out the mechanics of getting the handout from the server (paper saved, hooray!), found the app, and worked industriously, even helping each other out, for most of the remaining hour. I reserved the last 15 minutes for a riff on epistemology, ending with the mission statement slide.
Will they remember it? Maybe not, but it will have a better chance of impacting the course, I hope, if it was the last thing before the end of the class, after they’d actually done some of it.