SPECIAL MATERIAL
the real world. P. F. Velleman in his 2003 key- communicate their results in plain language, not
note address to the Beyond the Formula con- only in statistical jargon.
ference called the skills they must acquire the As GAISE emphasized, we must place more
seven unnatural acts of statistical thinking: emphasis on the plan and communicate steps. The
emphasis of the traditional mathematical course,
Think critically. on the do step can be largely replaced by relying

Challenge the data’s credentials; look
on technology for the calculations and graphics.
for biases and lurking variables.
In teaching students to think through the prob-
lem, plan their attack, and communicate results,
Be skeptical.
we bring students face-to-face with their real-world

Question authority and the current knowledge and experience—with the literature
theory. (Well, okay, sophomores do
side of their maturing intellect. We owe them an
find this natural.)
acknowledgement that we’ve done this. It isn’t fair
to emphasize the simplicity of the calculations or to
just provide a bunch of definitions in little boxes.

No comparative literature or philosophy teacher
would do that, and neither should we.
Focus on what we don’t know.
What guidance should we offer? First, we can

note that the judgment often called for in statistics
For example, a confidence interval
is one that invites students to state their personal
exhibits how much we don’t know
views. (After all, they are the ones who must be
about the parameter. 95% confident in their interval.) But, we can offer
guidance for their judgments; they must be guided
Perfect the process.
by the ethical goal of discovering, describing, mod-➎
Our best conclusion is often a refined eling, and understanding truth about the world.
question, but that means a student
Second, we can remind students their introduc-
tory statistics course is related to every other course

probabilities and rare events.
Humans just don’t do this well. Ask
any gambler. But, without this, the
student can’t understand a p-value.
Embrace vague concepts. Symmetry, center,
outlier, linear … the list of concepts fundamen-
tal to statistics but left without firm definitions
is quite long. What diligent student wanting to
learn the ‘right answer’ wouldn’t be dismayed?
How can we help students navigate these
woods? We don’t have definitive answers to the
question, in spite of our more than 50 years
(combined) teaching of introductory statistics.
But, we’d like to identify some themes that
might help us as a community to start a conver-
sation about some of the challenges.
We can help students by giving them a
structure for problemsolving that incorpo-
rates the requirement that they exercise their
judgment. In our books, we’ve recommended
that students follow the steps W. E. Deming
created more than 50 years ago in his advice
to industry: plan, do, check, act. We’ve sub-
stituted communicate for act to underscore
the importance of communicating to oth-
ers the results we see. Students must learn to
SEPTEMBER 2008 AMSTAT NEWS 57
SEPTEMBER AMSTAT FINAL.indd 57 8/20/08 2:27:07 PM
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