Coming (Back) to Our Census

Reflecting on the continuing, unexpected, and frustrating malaise that is Math 102, Probability and Statistics, one of my ongoing problems has been the deterioration of Fathom. It shouldn’t matter that much that we can’t get Census data any more, but I find that I miss it a great deal; and I think that it was a big part of what made stats so engaging at Lick.

So I’ve tried to make it accessible in kinda the same way I did the NHANES data years ago.

This time we have Census data instead of health. At this page here, you specify what variables you want to download, then you see a 10-case preview of the data to see if it’s what you want, and then you can get up to 1000 cases. I’m drawing them from a 21,000 case extract from the 2013 American Community Survey, all from California. (There are a lot more cases in the file I downloaded; I just took the first 21,000 or so so we could get an idea what’s going on.)

The effort, which was kind of fun, and almost works properly—it probably never will, so by all means visit—took me back to something like 2005, when I was fluent in MySQL and php. Now I can barely order lunch and find my way to the train station; what’s more, the relationship between the two has changed somewhat, and in addition, HTML5 has be come de rigeur, so moving to syntactic tags from good old tables was an adventure. One I probably should not have embarked on, since some browsers still don’t support some of the coolest layout tools.

Anyway, I hope it will not prove to have been merely a distraction from my woes. I’m now ready to start the ISCAM Investigation 1.7, in which we meet the Normal Distribution. I hope I’ve done enough prep.

The whole thing is making me question myself, looking back over my shoulder all the time, hearing cracking twigs in the pedagogical undergrowth.

  • What’s so bad about the normal? CLT produces it all the time for sampling distributions. Why am I so resistant?
  • Given my desire to get away from the traditional and from “false prerequisites,” why did I feel it necessary to introduce standard deviation, when Beth and ISCAM don’t?
  • If I were such a brilliant renegade, why is Fathom still so hard for students to engage with? Does it look boring? Is it just another of a zillion tools they have to get by with? Or (my deepest fear) is it that, even though I love my stuff, and Bill loves my stuff, it actually isn’t all that good? (Remind me to write about the popsicle-stick guy. Maybe I’m becoming him.)

Enough! Gotta prep!

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Tim Erickson

Math-science ed freelancer and sometime math teacher. In 2014–15, at Mills College in Oakland, California.

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