Never mind winning the race. Are we on the right track?

It’s another crisis of confidence in stat-teacher land. It’s actually not as bad right now as it was over the last week, all thanks for the improvement be to wonderful students. But still. I feel like Ralph Rackstraw in HMS Pinafore:

…in me there meet a combination of antithetical elements which are at eternal war with one another. Driven hither by objective influences — thither by subjective emotion — wafted one moment into blazing day by mocking hope — plunged the next into the Cimmerian darkness of tangible despair, I am but a living ganglion of irreconcilable antagonisms. I hope I make myself clear…

No? To me neither. In any case, the end of the third quarter fast approaches, and we’re battering away at the Gates of Inference. Will we get inside in time to do anything with it?

I’ve been really pleased with this semester’s arc so far. Staying empirical, mostly. Starting with some hands-on probability, learning to simulate in Fathom, then building up the simulation skills while addressing increasingly realistic and relevant problems. And I like my choice of aiming for “scrambling” situations; we’re now doing randomization tests with student-constructed measures to assess group differences in settings that the students choose. They don’t know they’re called randomization tests, and we’re picking strong associations (so P is generally ≤ 0.001), so everything is obvious, but they are mostly doing them. We’ve been saying the inference-y words a lot without adding the principles to the learning goals (yet), so this is mostly mechanical—but the students are gradually getting the idea.

So it seems good! Robin Lock even commented! More videos got made! And I have yet to mention the Normal distribution, which I view as a very good thing. I mean, imagine: actually understanding the basics of stats without having to break out the Normal.

But then two things happened:

  • I read parts of a few chapters in Workshop Statistics (Rossman, Chance, and the same Lock)
  • I started realizing how much else I wanted to get to

As to the first, nothing is quite so depressing as seeing that somebody else has done a much better job of organizing a bunch of material. Of course, they take a more traditional path though this thicket (they do include the Normal; then again, theirs is a college class), but they have a dizzyingly terrific set of activities that build well on one another. So I wonder if I should have bitten the bullet and bought a set of these—and hewn closely to their curriculum instead of going my own way on this.

And as to the second, I know I want to see if I can use this randomization approach on other forms of inference, both tests and estimates. But I also want them to have time for projects and a lot else, like expected value and gambling. And, save me, but I worry how much I need to expose them to more orthodox stats approaches, so that later when they tell a professor they took stats  in high school and the prof asks, “well, is this a t situation, or is this where we use chi-square?” they will actually be able to answer.

It all combines to fill me with doubts and feelings of total doofusism, that I have stupidly led these students into some box canyon where they can’t quite understand something that, if they did, would not quite be enough to get the big picture I think is so important. I have not described this well, but it’s a start. Another whole big slab of self-loathing comes from bad use of time and lousy follow-through.

Meanwhile, the scrambling video. From way last month. This one uses ScreenFlow instead of Camtasia:


Author: Tim Erickson

Math-science ed freelancer and sometime math and science teacher. Currently working on various projects.

3 thoughts on “Never mind winning the race. Are we on the right track?”

  1. Tim, I believe there is a (probably linear, positive slope) function that relates the explanatory variable “kick-myself-in-the-butt-’cause-I could-do-it better” to the response variable “How-good-the-teacher-is”. Thanks for your posts.

    1. Thanks, Dean; that helps. It would be great to get to a place where I can actually internalize that—to pedal hard to do the best I can, be clear-eyed-ly self-critical so I can improve where I mess up, and then enjoy the ride ’cause that I’m doing the best I can. I am so not on that bike yet, but I’m workin’ on it.

      1. Tim – A lot of us are in the same boat. By the way, are you going to gather all your videos into some sort of “all-in-one-place-Fathom-video-book”?

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