Category Archives: Homework/ Assignments

Applying the Science of Cognitive Development to the Classroom

Applying the science of cognitive development to the classroom may seem like overkill for many, but I suspect not for the individuals reading this blog. We hear and see fellow faculty follow the same approaches to teaching for decades, patting themselves on the back when they so deftly transferred their notes from yellow paper to PowerPoint presentations a decade or two ago. Today, they use those same Powerpoint presentations. Many still follow a two or three test pattern. When students do not master the material, they belittle the students. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. There have been a movement on foot to apply the science of cognitive development to the classroom. This is particularly evident from a day long conference on this topic that was held at Harvard . Though many of these issues have been discussed in this blog, over the next few weeks, I am going to bring to you some of my favorite messages from cognitive development and how the lessons learned in the lab can be used in the applied statistics classroom.

Since the benefit of testing was brought up at Harvard’s Conference, work popularized by Henry L. Roediger, III (e.g., we will begin here.

Here are a few important points to know about self testing.

  1. Students benefit from the act of attempting to retrieve information, even if they are unsuccessful.
  2.  Free recall yields the best future retrieval, thus, it is important to encourage students to attempt to recall answers WITHOUT looking at their notes or trying to get a cue from something like even a photo in their book
  3.  If, after an attempt at free recall retrieval has failed, then, a brief cued recall should be used … but, this should be taken as a sign that more studying is needed.
  4. Incredibly … let’s just say there are 10 concepts that students have learned, and you only have time to have them “test” 5 of those concepts … the even if the specific topic was not retrieved during testing, the act of self testing, just in that general area of knowledge, benefits ALL of the concepts. This is critically important, because their just isn’t enough time in the day to get students to test on everything we are covering in class.
  5. This shouldn’t surprise most of us … but students do not seem to come up with the right rules of self testing, and instead HAVE TO BE TOLD … when they do their homework, close their notes and book to get the greatest benefit. 
  6.  And yes, self testing gains much greater storage of information in a shorter period of time than massive studying.

So, how should this look in your classroom?

  1. Though there are many who feel multiple choice questions are the bane of education, there is some benefit to them with regard to just getting students memorize symbols and terms. So, it’s a start, but not an end. There are several ways you can adopt multiple choice testing.

a. This semester I have 5 questions on-line after every class. They cover the material that was for homework that was due in that class period. This is my first semester trying this (based on student responses from last semester’s class). So far, students find this fairly favorable. This is graded. Each quiz is worth 2.5 points, and it will sum to a full test grade. (Yes, I’m dropping the lowest few grades).

b. I also have a symbol’s quiz that students can take as often as they want. I will open it when we have covered all of the major symbols, at about the 7th week of the semester. Though many students never touch this non-graded quiz. Other students complete it weekly to make sure that they keep all of the symbols straight in their heads.

c. I also have a practice final exam. My final exam is (sadly) all multiple choice. I will be adding questions to the practice test, based on areas of weakness from my last semesters class. d. There are other ways to use online multiple choice quizzes, graded or not. Some faculty permit students to keep on repeating quizzes until they achieve a particular benchmark.

2. Back when I was an elementary school teacher, we were taught about the “lesson cycle.” We were instructed to start off each class with a “hook” or “focus” of students attention. This was called, an anticipatory set. Even during my early years as a teacher, I recognized that one of the best ways to get students focused on what was coming, was to have them retrieve the information that would serve as a basis for the newly learned material. Thus, to this day, I start off almost every class with something akin to a “quiz.” It’s not graded; it gets students mentally focused, and it provides students with all of the benefits of self testing. And, unlike multiple choice questions, I can ask more complex questions, like how are the one sample t-test and the z-test similar and how are they different? Here are a few links to examples of a “lesson cycle”,…/The%20Lesson%20Cycle.ppt

3. Probably the most important tool we have for students for self testing is the homework we provide and how we instruct them to complete it. The textbook, Statistical Concepts for the Behavioral Sciences, 4/e, have extensive supplements for students, including advanced (higher cognitive level) questions for each chapter and Exercises and Assignments for Students, a free supplement that includes everything from calculations to practicing terms. Finally, within the body of the textbook, there are three different types of homework problems. Testing Your Knowledge, Chapter Review, and Integrating Your Knowledge. The latter questions force students to integrate information from multiple chapters in order to solve a “real world” problem with statistics. My students know … all of this homework must be completed with their books and notes closed. Then, they get the benefit of self testing. In all cases, the answers are provided to the students for them to self correct.

4. Though this last recommendation is a bit “silly” … it works. I have been encouraging students to create their own quizzes or tests, but they always ask … how do I create the questions? I encourage students to always write down any question I may ask in class. Then use my in class questions as a basis for self testing questions. I wish students just came to us knowing how to learn. Many of my students don’t. So it is incumbent upon us to explicitly teach them how to study. The application of self testing is a tremendous tool too many students haven’t learned to adopt in their study strategies. Hopefully, with encouragement and instruction by us, we can see students who get more out of applied statistics than just the credit hours!

Anyone who has used self testing with applied statistics students is encouraged to tell us, how did it go.


Filed under Engaging students, Homework/ Assignments, Pedagogy

So, you don’t want to teach stats …

Here at Statistical Sage, though we have well over 100 followers from all over the world, most of our viewers seem to arrive to  us through Internet searchers. I always enjoy looking at the different terms people are using, and, in fact, plan on analyzing those terms to gain insight into the challenges people may be having in teaching applied statistics.

However, one search term caught my attention recently … “I don’t want to teach stats.”

I certainly understand about not wanting to teach certain classes we end up getting assigned to teach. I am sure I’m not alone in sighing, at least on occasion, when seeing what classes I will be teaching (or more importantly, what classes I won’t be teaching) for future semesters, but I have to admit, I have never thought “I don’t want to teach stats.”

If I were to talk to an individual who was “stuck” teaching statistics, here are the tips I would provide to them to help them through in teaching this class.

(1)    Never let your students know your lack of desire in teaching this class.

Students will be coming to your class not wanting to take it. You can’t give them additional reason as to why they are right, particularly when applied statistics is so critical for their future professional and graduate student success.

(2)    Don’t reinvent the wheel. Get the a syllabus from someone who has been successful in teaching the course. You can obtain a copy of a syllabus and tips on syllabi formation from a prior posting,

By the end of 2012, APA’s Division 2 Task Forces on Statistical Literacy will have recommendations for the teaching of applied statistics in psychology. This group will be providing to everyone a list of student learning outcomes, a bibliography of resources, a list of Best Practices in Teaching for each student learning outcome, and a detailed outline of assessment practices.  As this information becomes available, I will post it here.

(3)    Seek out from others who have taught this class the potential pit falls, and be prepared to address problems before they become problems. Understanding issues like the most critical concepts  and activities to help students master them can  help you help your students before real challenges erupt. Though this blog is filled with such information, I recommend you start with Hal and Bonnie’s Five Tips to Teaching Applied Statistics,  Or you can learn from others who are successful in  your discipline and apply the process of their success to the process of your success as a teacher of statistics .

(4)    Get a book that students find easy to read and understand that comes with it a set of homework problems (both in and out of the textbook). Of course, my favorite applied statistics book is Kiess and Green (2010) In addition to it coming with a detailed instructor’s manual, with specific classroom activities, chapter outline, and student outcomes, it also has about 5 homework assignments per chapter, and several  problems in the textbook for students to use, A great book will make teaching applied statistics easier.

(5)    You are going to need to give examples in class of studies that use statistics. Have fun with it, and use studies YOU find interesting. If you find it interesting, it will be bound to show to the students, and talk about your own research or areas where statistics have been applied in your life. Given the example will take up about 15 minutes of each and every (50 minute) class, you can be guaranteed of at least part of every class time being interesting to you. If you are interested in the topics you are talking about, your students will be excited about coming to class to listen to what you have to say next, that enthusiasm will rub off on you, the professor, in a nice, circular, and upward lifting manner.

(6)    Chances are you are going to try to get out of having to teach statistics in the future. And let’s face it, you are probably just one new hire away from having your wishes fulfilled. However, I still encourage you to read up on pedagogy, because, after all … the economy is bad, and you may be at the bottom of that seniority pile for longer than you expected, as the senior faculty who should have retired years ago no longer can do so thanks decreases in their retirement funds. If you don’t want to invest a great deal of time in the study of pedagogy, that’s why StatisticalSage is here … for you, as, after all … you may be “stuck” teaching applied statistics, but you still cared enough to google “I don’t want to teach stats,” and you cared enough to read a few entries here. That means, you do care.

There are lots of things I don’t want to do … clean out my refrigerator, go for my annual check up with the doctor, go to the dentist for a teeth cleaning, and yet … I do it. And you can teach stats well, too, and who knows … maybe  you’ll even like it, a little.

Please let me know how your semester turns out!


Filed under Core Concepts, Curriculum, Engaging students, Homework/ Assignments, Pedagogy, Statistics Syllabus, Text books

A Statistics Professor’s New Year’s Resolution – 2012

Happy 2012! It is time for us to set goals for the new year.

There is good reason for us all to make New Year’s Resolutions as applied statistics professor (and students)  as in doing so, it  increase the likelihood of us making a change ( The first step in making a change is to focus on the negative … what’s going on in your classroom that you would like to change or that needs improvement ( ?

Though I can’t attest to the quality of the data, it is reported that 40 – 45% of all people make New Year’s Resolutions … with weight loss and exercise topping that list, followed by quitting a bad habit like smoking, and managing money better. Setting a New Year’s Resolution actually does increase the likelihood of a person achieving that goal. But that shouldn’t be surprising … Yogi Berra is reported to say, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up some place else.” Specifically, a New Year’s Resolution is a goal for a person to achieve.

My professional goal for 2012 is two fold … (1) I reverted back to a cumulative final exam for this past semester, and noticed that there were a few areas where most students had challenges. My first New Year’s Resolution is to help students master these more challenging areas of applied statistics.  (2) I want more students to behave in a manner that will assure their success … you know, the basic things like coming to class, completing homework, and so forth.

However, simply hoping that my goals come true will not maximize the likelihood of them being reached. Borrowing from research on Deliberate Practice (, also reviewed in ), it helps to achieve ones goals is we:

  1. Clearly state what we are interesting in achieving, and a plan of how to achieve it.
  2. Make sure the goal is attainable, and that it takes us to a higher level of achievement.
  3. Establish a way of assessing our progress toward the goals.
  4. Practice, Practice, Practice, and revise, revise revise along the way, recognizing that there will be times that we won’t be successful, but that even in failure, we can learn, and try again.

I want to focus on increasing student learning, by looking at student weaknesses on the final exam. That is fairly specific. To do this I will:

  •  Identify the SLO by examining item analysis on the cumulative final exam.
  • Add additional homework assignments in these areas.
  • Add additional quizzes for students.
  • Notify my student tutor of the areas of weakness, and have her come up with special study sessions for these difficult areas, and make announcements to students … using the carrot of high grades on the final exam,
  • See if the in class activities/lectures are helping students master the material.

It will be easy to assess … homework & quiz performance, feedback from the student tutor, and ultimately student performance on the final exam will all provide evidence of whether my approach improves students’ performance. Throughout the spring semester, I will chronicle what those areas are and share with you additional homework and class activities. And my student tutor, Amy Lebkeucher, has agreed to talk about her experiences in helping students master this material, as well.

As for helping students adopt the kind of behavior we all want to see in our students … I haven’t found the right words to tell students to make them behave. I explicitly tell students what they need to do to be successful in class.  It is printed in the syllabus; I have other students tell them. I remind them on a regular basis, and yet, every semester I have students who fail my class because they simply didn’t buy the book … “Aren’t you one of those great teachers, where I don’t need to buy the book to be successful?” Students come to me at the end of the semester asking what they can do since they missed so many classes and homework … sigh. I know I’m not alone as the most recent report from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) has the typical college student is studying less than 15 hours a week … that’s one hour of studying per credit hour, which simply isn’t enough time. About a 1/3 of all students do NOT even review notes after taking them, and close to 1 out of 3 students who need help do not seek help from the professor! In short, the NSSE reveals what many of us are seeing … our students aren’t behaving in a manner that will maximize their success.

So, I’m adopting a “Marketing Campaign” that helps students to understand (1) attend class (2) study at least 2 hrs./ week/ credit hour (3) read all assigned reading at least thrice (4) establish a study plan and (5) implement self testing into their study plan. We I will assess this marketing campaign with surveys of student reported behavior, class attendance, and homework checks. However, I would be lying if I said I know what I need to do to help maximize students’ behavior. I’m thinking of trying something like , but … if this was an easy task, I would have had it fixed by now. This may not reach Deliberate Practice’s step of Attainable … but it’s worth trying.

Of course, during 2012, I will let  you know what works and what doesn’t … and if anyone has any ideas, please let us know.

May 2012 be a year of great professional growth, health, and peace for us all!

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Filed under Curriculum, Engaging students, Homework/ Assignments, Maximizing Cognitive Development, Pedagogy

Statistics Professor’s New Years Resolution — a Review from 2011

As we come to the end of a year, we often take stock. At StatisticalSage, we have seen a tremendous increase in viewers as we approach 6000 views just for 2011! That’s a big change from our first year, when on our best days we only had a couple of views. Currently we have over 100 people following this blog. Some of the people reading this blog have gotten new jobs, been promoted, and have made real growth in the quality of their teaching (and we would love to hear about it). Of course, another group of students have been exposed to the usefulness of statistics as a tool to answer important questions in health, business, science, and education, and hopefully, many of them have learned something lasting along the way.

As we enter wrap up 2011, I wanted to briefly review progress in my 2011 New Year’s Resolution ( ). Just a brief review, my resolution stated: “I will be applying Mathematica demonstrations to my teaching! My goal for the spring semester is to identify and use at least 5 Mathematica demonstrations and make them available to students electronically via Desire 2 Learn (ESU’s course delivery system du jour). I also hope to make them available to everyone at Statistical Sage as well. For Fall 2011, it is my goal to identify Mathematica demonstrations for all of the concepts I teach.”

Establishing this goal resulted in me making far greater advances in technology that I thought.  Students who used Mathematica did report greater understanding, but far too many students are still not making use of the Mathematica demonstrations outside of class.  My attempts have been documented in two prior blogs (  For Spring 2012, I will add an on-line quizzes that I am hoping will “motivate” students to make use of the Mathematica demonstrations. As I continue to find the best way of implementing Mathematica, I will continue to let you know.

I invite all of you to tell us about your advances in 2011 … it’s always nice to hear good news.

I wish everyone good health, happiness, and peace for you and your family!

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A great statistical bag of tricks …

Hello All,

As we head into the heat of the summer, I have been reading several books on teaching. One book particularly caught my eye, Gelman & Nolan (2002). Teaching Statistics: A bag of tricks. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

The book provides a brief overview of how to approach the teaching of statistics, then provides topic specific chapters with concrete demonstrations and activities that you can use when teaching introductory and advanced statistics. The activities do two things … provide students with a visual manner of the critical concepts of statistics, including the practice of integrating all of that information together for the purpose of answering research questions using statistics. However, these activities also help keep students intellectually engaged and often sparks curiosity, which is a key to getting students to put forth the type of effort necessary for mastering statistics.

Even a statistical sage will be certain to find new ideas for teaching in Gelman & Nolan’s Teaching Statistics: A bag of tricks! 

It certainly makes for great summer reading!


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Evaluating the implementation of Mathematica Demonstrations … next semester, deliberate practice

Before the spring semester started, I promised to try Mathematica demonstrations with my applied statistics class with the intention of helping them better understand the concepts of statistics. You can access that blog at this link:

Well, I did what I had intended, but not in the manner in which I had hoped. You see, we ended up with my students missing almost a week and half of the semester due to school being closed. So, I had my students “explore” the Mathematica Demonstrations that I outlined in my prior blog. I felt pretty good, as I thought my students wouldn’t fall too far behind in their course work, and their exploration could be even more beneficial than being in class … right? Wrong …

Students logged on and looked at the demonstration. Most reported (cut this in half?) working with each demonstration for less then 6 minutes (ouch). They all said favorable things about Mathematica, but I saw no carry over to questions in class or on exams.

I suppose as I look at the practice of using technology in teaching applied statistics, simply providing students with the tools does not assure cognitive development — and yes, I knew that, and was planning on integrating it during class time, but snow days got in the way. In a few days, I have asked a guest blogger, Livie Carducci, who is experienced in using Mathematic demonstrations in teaching statistics to talk about some techniques to maximize student engagement.

Not surprising, what I noticed this semester is that some students will naturally explore, but others will put forth the minumum effort. I became motivated to figure out a way to assure students will be intellectually engaged in thi assignment. I thought of the new pedagogical practice of Deliberate Practice. Thus, for this summer, I plan on working on developing assignments around each of the Mathematica Demonstrations that increases the likelihood of students engaging in deliberate practice through the application of Deliberate Practice.

So, let me review this for you … first of all, as a pedagogical tool, Deliberate Practice is in its infancy. It is based off of the cognitive developmental research of Ericcson on expertise. Briefly, in the early 1990’s Ericcson and others noticed that people who truly became experts in an area, often devoted a tremendous amount of time and effort over the course of at least a decade before they hit a level of expertise. Ericcson hypothesized that we were born to excel, but through deliberate practice could become experts in areas of music, thinking, physical activity and the like.

Not all practice is deliberate. For practice to be considered deliberate it seems that it requires the following.

(1) We must first not only establish our desired outcome, but establish a means of reaching that outcome, thus we must specify the process.

So, I have a goal: I want to master the pedagogical practice of increasing my students participate in Deliberate Practice when interacting with the Mathematca Demonstrations, but in order to do that I must (a) study about deliberate practice, which will mean reading about it and talking to others who have tried it (b) specify the components of deliberate practice that I need to have my students accomplish (c) look at each Mathematica Demonstration I have selected for my students, and come up with an activity that will increase students’ deliberate practice (d) as I am going to have to assess my students implementation of Deliberate Practice, I should design a quick survey. (e) Immediately, my mind ponders about whether or not I should set this up as a research study … and I say, if I will, I’ll make that a new goal. (f) After looking at the students’ responses to the survey in the fall semester, see about making revisions to improve these assignments.

(2) The established goal must take us to a higher level of attainment.

Let’s face it, we can’t just stay right were we all … deliberate practice is all about hitting a higher level of expertise.  In my example, I’m clearly going outside of my prior experiences, but not too far to make this an unattainable goal.

(3) Now, as you implement your plan, you have to be formally and informally evaluating your progress.

Often this will require the use of an expert to provide you with feedback. Of course, you also have to have a keen sense of your own metacognition and progress. Though I haven’t read this in the literature, yet, I would suspect that individuals with weakened self esteems might have a tough time implementing Deliberate Practice, as you must have clear (and honest) insight into what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how you can do it better. We simply have to be cautious of our own bias to see everything as great. In hypothesis testing, this is called validation testing … where you look for signs that you are right! Instead, people who make strides in increasing their expertise through Deliberate Practice should make use of a practice more akin to “falsification hypothesis testing” where you look for how  you are wrong, and what you must do to get better.

My plan for preparing to implement deliberate practice as a way of maximizing the use of the Mathematica demonstrations will involve a self designed survey, specifically geared to look for how my practice is weak and what I can do to make it better. Of course, I’m also putting my efforts out in this blog, where I invite other statistics professors to comment.

(4) Then, you must … practice, practice, practice … but notice, that practice, alone isn’t enough … you must have a detailed and well thought out plan that takes you to a higher level, and  be critically evaluated by both yourself and an expert.

I would love to say … provide students with the Mathematica Demonstrations and the students will naturally enter into Deliberate Practice, but my experience this semester has been that most will not. So, I will establish an assignment that puts students on the right path. As I work on that over this summer, I will update my prior Mathematica Blog with a new one including the activities that go along with the demonstrations.

As always, I welcome your expertise on this topic! I also encourge you to look at Livie’s post on how she uses Mathematica to get students to master concepts of statistics.


Filed under Engaging students, Homework/ Assignments, Maximizing Cognitive Development, Pedagogy

Helping Students with Study Skills

I know that many of you are fortunate to be teaching at schools where students have long ago mastered the ability to study efficiently. However, many of you are teaching at schools where students really do not know the best ways of studying. As such, early on in the semester, it may help to talk to students about optimizing their studying.

I use several strategies to aid students in improving their study skills and behaviors.  At the beginning of the semester I often use research on study skills or metacognition for examples of statistical concepts, thus while covering examples of how a correlation might be used or how hypothesis testing work (in a fundamental fashion) I may use a study similar to the ones I have listed here.

Cassaday, H. J., Bloomfield, R. E., & Hayward, N. (2002). Relaxed conditions can provide memory cues in both undergraduate and primary school children. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 72, 531-547.
Gurung, G. A. R. (2005). How do students really study (and does it matter)? Teaching of Psychology, 32, 239-241.

Roediger, H. L., & Karpicke, J. D. (2006). Test-enhanced learning: Taking memory tests improves long-term retention. Psychological Science, 17, 249-255.

Roediger, H. L., & Karpicke, J. D. (2006). The power of testing memory: Basic research and implications for educational practice. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1, 181-210

Zaromb, F. M., Karpicke, J. D., & Roediger, H. L. (2010). Comprehension as a basis for metacognitive judgments: Effects of effort after meaning on recall and metacognition. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 36, 552-557

I also survey students regarding their study skills. (  This does three things. One, it gives me data on what the students are thinking and how they are behaving. If their expectations are off from mine, I can further remind them of what my expectations are, plus the act of taking a survey often sharpens a person’s attention on the topic for which they are being surveyed, thus making them more receptive to information that will follow. Third, I can use some of this data for in class calculations or for exam questions.
This survey includes three components: students’ Implicit View of Intelligence, Students Attitude regarding Mathematics, and Students’ Study Behavior.

I have been asked to speak with students about study skills and metacognition. I am including my most recent PowerPoint presentation.  Learning to Study by bg I find this takes about 20 – 30 minutes to review. Feel free to revise it at you see fit. Though I don’t present this during class time, this presentation does cover important points students often need to know to optimize their studying behavior.

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Webinar on February 10th noon EST

Pearson is proud to announce an instructional webinar on Teaching Statistics with a special focus on teaching at community colleges.

From the comfort of your home or office, join our live webinar hosted by Bonnie A. Green and Harold O. Kiess. Bonnie and Hal, both statistics teachers and authors of Statistical Concepts for the Behavioral Sciences, 4th edition, will talk about best practices for teaching Statistics.

The webinar will take place on Thursday, February 10, 2011 from 12:00 noon – 1 PM EST. There is no registration fee; all you need is a computer and an internet connection. Registration is required; please email to register!

Nicole Kunzmann
Marketing Manager, Psychology

Learn about Pearson’s Psychology list at


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Teaching hypothesis, design, analysis & inference as one thing

“So, the question I would like to pose for the sages and anyone else interested in commenting … for a first semester undergraduate applied statistics class … what are the most critical student learning outcomes that have to be mastered?”

First let me just comment on the blog Bonnie just posted today: I think her list of core concepts is excellent, and I agree that those concepts (all of which have to do with the ever-present error inherent in all our observations and measurements) should certainly be taught in the introductory statistics course.  Nevertheless, let me introduce a different perspective.

When I first saw the question posed by Bonnie  (reproduced above) I thought the answer would be an easy one to write. It turns out it is not quite so easy. My problem is that I see all the parts of the application of statistics as parts of an integrated whole. So my answer will appear to be a daunting one.

I hope that students can take away an appreciation (mastery would be too much to ask at this level) of how we use data to make inferences about the behavior under study. My typical homework problems were not, except for some initial ones, about calculations: finding means, t or F values, and p values. Rather an experimenter’s hypotheses would be stated along with how she collected the data to test those hypotheses, and (relatively simple) data would then be listed. The question posed was: what can you conclude from these data, and especially what can you conclude about the hypotheses? The appropriate way to answer such problems was to present the means and to interpret what the pattern tells us, with the statistical test of significance to guide us as to which differences we could assume due to the independent variable.

I understand that this is asking a lot of the students, but just getting statistics from data sets bores the heck out of me, and I don’t see why it would not be equally boring to the students. A few weeks into the semester we would be into the Analysis of Variance (Keppel’s book does a wonderful job facilitating early introduction of AOV), and the course especially emphasized factorial designs in which interpretation of patterns of means with the assistance of significance testing becomes, for me at least, most challenging and most interesting. The logic of the interplay of hypothesis, design, data, statistical analysis and inference is to me all one thing.

Such an integrated concept, satisfying to me, may or may not be an asset when applied to teaching the first undergraduate course in statistics.


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Filed under ANOVA Analysis of Variance, Core Concepts, Homework/ Assignments, Hypothesis Testing, Pedagogy, Significance (Statistical/ Practical), Statistical Hypothesis Testing

Engaging students with homework … a developmental approach

In a prior post, I provided you with a link for homework assignments I, along with Hal Kiess, and Josh Sandry, put together for our students and yours.

My homework sheets were created out of necessity. When I was a graduate student, I spent a year as a research assistant, I spent a year on a fellowship, I even spent a year as a statistical/ research consultant for medical residents. The other two years I spent as the teaching assistant for a research methods class. As such, I never even saw statistics being taught except when I was a student in the class.

 My first year out of graduate school, I wasn’t surprised when I was assigned to teach behavioral statistics. What I was shocked at, however, is that though my students were delightful, they were terrified of mathematics. I had heard of math anxiety, but never really thought much of it, until that first year teaching. However, nothing prepared me for a visit from one of my students. Now, I had already had her in research methods (as it was taught before statistics … a discussion for a future blog). She was an exceptional student: attentive, hard working, asked great questions. Not surprising, she earned an A in research methods. Now it was time for statistics. She met me in my office trying to convince me she had something akin to dyslexia. Well, as a former elementary school teacher, I knew what dyslexia looked like, and I said to her flat out that she did not show signs of dyslexia. She looked sad, and said, well, it’s dyslexia but with math. Before I could control my comments, I asked if she had dyscalculia, she responded that she did, and a very inappropriate phase came out of my mouth, as I wondered, how I was going to teach … this student!

Dyscalculia is a mathematical learning disorder. Fortunately for the student, I had been formally trained in how to teach students with learning disabilities. However, even if you haven’t been what I did for this student is outlined, more or less, in “A Letter to my Math Teacher” which can be found at . To aid this student, I made up the homework sheets. The focus was on keeping the work simple. I laid everything out so that the student could have a fair amount of practice, without being overwhelming. Now, this first time through I did everything by hand. However, when the student asked me to make copies for members of her study group, I began giving it to all of the students in the class.

 I noticed that the homework assignments decreased the students’ anxiety, especially when I included the answers. In the last several years, I have added to the homework assignments, making sure that the questions are set up to help students to focus on the statistical concepts (as they often seem prone to want to switch over to a step 1, step 2, etc. approach to statistics).

When I survey my students, they report that they study 5 – 8 hours every week and that most of that time is spent on the homework assignments, which they also report helps them in mastering the material. In fact, my next year’s class will have three more homework assignments than this past year’s class, because students asked for more homework of a very specific kind to help them in further understanding concepts.  

For you … the good news is, you don’t even have to make up the assignments, just print them out for your students by following the link Of course, as always, I look forward to hearing about how you handle homework with your students and how you think it is working toward helping your students to truly master the concepts of statistics.

Until the next time –  happy thinking!

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