# Starting a new semester … engaging students

School has started, which is always exciting.  After all, the new school year is filled with GREAT possibilities.

Yet, lets face it … most of the students in our classes this fall aren’t going to have that level of excitement, especially about having to take statistics. I often contemplate, why aren’t students excited about the possibilities of learning statistics? Though I certainly don’t have all of the answers, and look forward to hearing from the sages, I do have a few hypotheses, each that I will be discussing over the course of the next few weeks.

(1) People don’t trust statistics, and the students have heard these comments, possibly for years. http://www.quotegarden.com/statistics.html Take this link to a list of quotes on statistics, and see how many of them basically say … you can use statistics to lie. Of course, it probably doesn’t help labor day marks the start of the big push for the fall elections, filled with commercials that use statistics to … well, manipulate the thinking of others.

(2) Students believe statistics is hard to learn, maybe even too hard for them to ever learn. This is especially obvious when meeting new people. As the standard niceties are exchanged … my response to “What do you do?” is greeted with “Statistics, I hated statistics … it was so hard.” These words have been uttered by even highly educated, highly successful, and highly intelligent individuals, and yet, even they find statistics “hard” and are willing to state it aloud.  We, as a society see statistics as something hard to learn and difficult to understand, and we aren’t even embarrassed to say so  out loud.

(3) Students have anxiety about the math portion of the course. In many cases, rightfully so. So many students are coming out of high school woefully ill prepared with the tools of understanding the basic mathematics necessary for them to be successful in statistics. Many of us teach nontraditional students who have been away from math for years even decades, thus further increasing their anxiety.  Others, however, simply have anxiety surrounding numbers. This anxiety leads them to avoid the very activities that will help them to be successful. By avoiding numbers and math classes, they don’t get the practice to improve… it’s a nasty cycle those of us who teach statistics have all seen.

These beliefs lead to a lack of student engagement. If students are not engaged in class, the likelihood of them being successful diminishes rapidly!

There are two parts to engagement … the mental part and the behavioral part. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I will speak about how I specifically target changing students attitudes and behaviors so they can recognize when statistics can be useful, that with effort (and a healthy brain) they can learn and understand statistics, and that the amount of math needed to be successful in a statistics class is not going to hold back anyone who was able to graduate from high school and get accepted into college, even if it’s been a while since high school graduation.