Nagambal Shah, Professor of Mathematics, Spelman College, Atlanta, Georgia


Chance is a course designed to teach fundamental ideas of statistics and probability through real-world problems that affect students' everyday lives. The course was designed to replace a required Quantitative Reasoning course in the Honors program at Spelman College, which is a historically black college for women. The Chance course evolved from a multi-institutional Chance Project developed by J. Laurie Snell of Dartmouth College and funded by the National Science Foundation. It is organized around case-studies drawn from current events reported in daily newspapers and other news media.

Students enrolled in this course learn that a basic command of probability and statistics is essential for being able to critically analyze and form opinions about many of the issues that will confront them as citizens. Guest lectures from political and civic leaders, class discussions, computer simulations, and data manipulation activities, allow students explore such topics as polling, decision-making, and voting systems, and gain basic skills in statistical analysis and the mathematics of probability.

Throughout the semester students are asked to use their new skills by developing Chance journals, where they collect articles from technical journals and popular media and analyze how mathematical and statistical material is used, or misused, to support the article's conclusions. Journal entries are collected intermittently and used as material for group discussions. Students also submit short research papers on the statistical or mathematical aspects of issues of contemporary significance, such as breast cancer, gun control, HIV/AIDS, or political polls.

The final class project is a public "Chance Fair," where students develop poster presentations of individual research that explores the statistical questions and problems surrounding a pressing contemporary issue that has particular relevance to them. Examples of past Chance Fair research project topics include the incidence of rape, drunk driving, global population growth, suicide, anorexia, and domestic abuse.

Learning Goals

For more information, see the Chance Web site .


  • Statistics: The science of data
    • Producing data
    • Exploring data
    • Probability: The mathematics of chance
    • Statistical inference
  • Video segments from "Statistics: Decisions through data," COMAP will be augmented
  • The digital revolution or digital divide?
  • Identification numbers
  • Transmitting information
  • From beepers to cell phones and the Internet/Web world
  • Social choice and decision making
  • Social choice: The impossible dream
  • Weighted voting systems
  • Electing the President
  • Modeling in mathematics (open topic)

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