Introductory Statistics with Community-Based Projects

Cindy Kaus, Associate Professor of Mathematics, Metropolitan State University

By incorporating semester long community-based projects into an introductory statistics course, Metropolitan State University aims to connect the discipline of statistics to issues of immediate concern to students and to increase appreciation of how this powerful quantitative tool can improve their ability to make informed decisions in their professional, civic, and personal lives. Statistics I is a general education math course required for majors in mathematics, business, biology, social work and nursing. However, students majoring in many other disciplines regularly take the course to meet their general education requirement so that the course engages a very diverse group of learners whose strengths contribute to the group project format.

Key statistics concepts, such as probability, regression, distributions, outliers, correlation and statistical significance, are taught "through" issues of civic importance, such as voting results, the death penalty, drug use, or unemployment. Lectures are combined with in-class group work, in-class discussion projects and a semester long community-based group project on a topic of the students' choice. Recent group projects have investigated the relationship of unemployment to housing foreclosures in the county, a comparison between the price of prescription drugs in local pharmacies and the price of drugs obtained on-line from Canada, and the correlation between actual mercury contamination in the Twin Cities area and Fish Consumption Advisories from the state department of natural resources. Though the course has only been taught since 2007, some students have already attributed their success in obtaining jobs to the projects they completed in this course, and assessment data suggests substantial gains in students' confidence and their ability to understand statistics and its applications.

Course Learning Goals for Instructors and Students

Instructor Goals:

Instructor will teach students to:

  • Understand and apply the principles and methods of statistics used in the description and analysis of data, including collection of data, design of experiments, sampling, correlation, regression, confidence intervals, and significance tests
  • Recognize the relevance of mathematics and statistics to problem-solving and decision-making in their every-day lives

Student Goals:

Student should be able to:

  • Read, understand, and evaluate statistical presentations in the media
  • Think critically about social issues
  • Increase their awareness that statistics and mathematics are useful tools for understanding complex social issues
  • Determine what is reliable data and to look at statistical studies critically

To achieve these goals, the course was developed so that students could choose the topic of their group projects based on their own interests. In addition, daily in class group projects and discussion projects were carefully chosen to highlight civic issues. Students were encouraged to read their free online New York Timeson a daily basis and to present articles at the beginning of each class that involved statistics. The theme of social awareness was begun on the first day of class and carried on throughout the semester.

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