By Rachel Chase
Delaware Technical Community College
After attending an undergraduate research conference, I was inspired to implement a research driven assignment into the statistics courses I teach. Over the last few semesters of trials and tribulations, I have learned much about what works and what doesn’t.
The gist of the project is to have students search for a set of population data within their field of study, then use Excel to crunch some numbers. The conclusion of the project requires them to use their findings to write a data analysis and give a presentation to their peers and faculty advisers. The big picture is not just to have students demonstrate quantitative reasoning using statistics, but be able to explain the W’s (who, what, when, where, why) based on this information.
What I Have Learned
Presentation is a scary word. The second time assigning this, I expressed it to them as the opportunity to show off what they have invested so much of their time in this semester.
No matter how many checkpoints you set up along the way, some students will be unprepared. I now realize this is not a bad thing; the students who were on schedule would often turn to their peers and help them catch up, for example, by explaining the different functions in Excel. This gave me a deeper understanding of who genuinely understands the content.
Students feel violated when asked to write and present in math class. I always explain to students that to be successful as a professional in the field, they will need to be able to communicate both verbally and in writing.
What Surprised Me
Students were proud to present. When I informed them that their faculty advisers were invited to attend, students were quite excited because they had the opportunity to prove how they apply statistics in their field of study.
There is a lot of variety in topics, projects, and content. Some students choose the same general topic, but based on their studies come up with very different results.
Several students deliberately chose certain data values to investigate how one’s understanding of statistics can give them the ability to make their data say what they want. In their presentations, these students explained why they wanted to show that.
Why I Love This Assignment
In the math department we help to support all other disciplines at the college. That said, I want to make sure every student leaves the class understanding how statistics is used in their field.
We have several majors who take this course, as well as many different backgrounds of students. Each student brings a different perspective to the table.
The class periods in a lab dedicated to working on this assignment seems to help form the community in the classroom. Since it is a less formal setting than the classroom, the students tend to talk with each other more frequently when they need help since they may have to wait a few minutes as I circle and check-in around the room.
As for my thoughts on the future, I always find something that needs to be tweaked between semesters. Some examples of former changes are the way in which project directions are written or the way expectations are orally conveyed. The students continue to impress and surprise me semester after semester.
To anyone who is on the fence about if a multi-faceted research project is right for their class, I encourage you to try it. This has changed the dynamic of my classroom in more ways than I could have imagined.