Linking Mathematics and Social Issues

How Introductory Statistics with Community-Based Projects Links Statistics and Social Issues

Throughout the semester the concepts taught in statistics were linked to social issues through lecture examples, in-class group work, in-class discussion projects and their semester long community-based projects. Through these methods many different social issues, such as voting results, the death penalty and illegal drug use, are addressed along with statistical concepts, such as outliers, correlation and statistical significance, which aid in the understanding of those issues.

The social issues that students investigate in their community-based projects are connected to the students' personal interests. On the first day of class the concept of the community-based projects is introduced and the rest of the class period is used to brainstorm a list of possible topics for the projects. By the second class, the instructor has narrowed the list of possible topics based on feasibility and presents that list to the students. The students then choose their top five preferences for topics. Groups are formed by the instructor based on the students' preferences for topic and also based on any partner preferences. However, since this is only the second class meeting, many students do not know other students in the class and the groups are solely based on topic preference. In some cases, multiple groups worked on the same topic for their projects.

In the group projects, students are required to include concepts from statistics at all four of the following levels:

- Organizing data in tables and graphs which include frequency tables, histograms, bar graphs and pie charts
- Describing distributions using mean, median, mode, quartiles, standard deviation
- Indicating outliers and their effects on the distribution
- Simple random samples, stratified random samples, convenience samples, quotas
- Describing populations and samples
- Percentages
- Normal distributions
- Z-scores
- Scatter plots
- Correlation
- Linear regression
- Probability and probability distributions
- Random variables
- Expected value and standard deviation
- Confidence intervals
- Margin of error
- Hypothesis testing
- Statistical significance

Sample List of Topics Chosen by Students in the Spring and Fall Semesters of 2007

Crossing the Border: Online Drugs from Canada
Purpose: To investigate the difference in prescription drug prices between online pharmacies in the United States and Canada. A case study was performed for a 68 year old retired man from Blaine, Minnesota. The man lives on a fixed income and currently takes ten commonly prescribed medications. A simple random sample of online pharmacies from each country was selected and a comparison of the prices was done.

Mercury in Minnesota Lakes and Fish Consumption Advisories
Purpose: To investigate mercury contamination in lakes within the Twin Cities metro area. Data from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency was analyzed and summarized in a report.

Crime Rates per Capita Related to 2 Bedroom 1 Bath Rental Properties in Minneapolis
Purpose: To investigate the relationship between apartment rental rates and crime rates in twelve communities of Minneapolis Minnesota.

Unemployment on the State and National Level
Purpose: To investigate the unemployment trends within the state of Minnesota and the United States over the past 20 years. The relationship between unemployment rates, race and educational attainment are examined.

The Uninsured in the State of Minnesota
Purpose: To examine the characteristics of the citizens of Minnesota without health insurance. The characteristics that were examined were race, age, employment status, level of education, and income.

Domestic Abuse: Gender, Race and Language
Purpose: To identify characteristics of perpetrators and victims of domestic abuse in Minneapolis in order to gain a better understanding of this crime in the community. The characteristics examined were race, gender, whether or not perpetrators/victims understood English and were allowed an interpreter, type of crime alleged, type of proceeding and the relationship between the abuser and the victim.

Housing Foreclosures in Ramsey County
Purpose: To investigate the relationship between housing foreclosures in Ramsey County and unemployment rates, sub-prime loan rates and housing costs.