Reading, Writing And Statistics? - Data Analysis And Statistical Literacy For All | Stats + Stories Episode 13 / by Stats Stories

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Christine Franklin, Lothar Tresp Honoratus Honors Professor and Undergraduate Coordinator in Statistics at the University of Georgia, joined the Stats+Stories regulars to talk about educating students to be statistically literate citizens. She was the lead writer for the American Statistical Association (ASA) Pre-K-12 GAISE(Guidelines for Assessment and Instruction in Statistics Education) Framework that served as the basis for the statistics strand in the new national Common Core State Standards for K-12 mathematics.

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Bob Long: We're all familiar with the well-worn school phrase - the three R's - Reading, Riting and Rithmetic! But times are changing. You may not know that the new education model today easily could read - Reading, Writing and Statistics. Young people spend so much time with new technology - the Social Media, Internet, iPhones, Tablets and much more. And that's one reason many people think it's critical for students to begin learning the importance of evaluating the data and statistics that are so much a part of their world. I'm Bob Long. We welcome you to Stats and Stories. It's a program where we look at the statistics behind the stories, and the stories behind the statistics. And our focus today is on why we all should be concerned about data analysis. Before we talk with our special guest, Stats and Stories reporter Bethany Miller tells us how Statistics is now part of the new Common Core standards for students in grades K through 12.

Bethany Miller: When you think of classes you took in middle school and high school you probably think of science, math, English and social studies. But schools now have new common core standards that provide learning goals to prepare students for the future.

One of those standards is an emphasis on statistics for middle school and high school students. Education director for the American Statistical Association, Rebecca Nichols says that's important because we live in a data driven society.

Rebecca Nichols: So ASA is pleased that there's a focus on statistics especially at the middle and high school levels in the common core state standards, because statistical literacy is really needed by all to make informed decisions based on data both in our professional and our personal life.

Miller: Nichols says it's important for students to learn how to make decisions based on data through the statistical problem-solving process. She says they also learn how to be critical consumers of statistics.

Nichols: Statisticians working with data have a huge impact on the world, and the job outlook for them is good. So we're hoping that students are familiar with data, what to do with it, and the impacts of it.

Miller: Nichols believes many people don't realize the impact statistics can have on them. She says the information you share and post on Facebook or Twitter is being collected by Internet and social media sites.

Nichols: Sites should have data use and privacy policies that people can find, and hopefully they're following ethical guidelines. But they should have these data use and privacy policies so people can go and proactively figure out what data is being collected, what they're doing with it, and then people should be empowered to know whether or not they want to share that data with these sites by using the sites. And there are even some apps out there that can help people figure out what data is being collected about themselves.

Miller: Miami University graduate Lisa Werwinski now teaches probability and statistics at Glen Este high school near Cincinnati. She learned about the information collected on her through her students.

Lisa Werwinski: One time I thought they were working on a project, and I walked around and they were Googling me, because they wanted to know how old I was. I thought it was hilarious, but who knows what else they're doing when they're at home.

Miller: Werwinski emphasizes to her students the importance of not being fooled by statistics and to think twice about what they post.

Werwinski: I think high school students overall have a false sense of security regarding the Internet. They don't know that data is collected almost every time that they use the Internet. And the dangerous thing is that statisticians can manipulate data to say almost anything they want it to. And if our audience is not smart enough to catch on, then we've won.

Miller: She says the posts students share could be used against them when it comes to college applications and scholarships. Werwinski also likes to use real life data when teaching her students.

Werwinski: The textbook examples just don't draw students in. In real life, data is not perfect, and so I want them to see that. I try and make it applicable to them and make it fun. I hope they look back at my class and think - 'You know what? I enjoyed that. I may have hated math all through high school but there was something about Miss Werwinski's statistics class that I kind of liked.'

Miller: Lisa Werwinski says she's trying to change the culture of statistics from something that seems mundane and uninteresting to something they can use in their daily lives. For Stats and Stories, I'm Bethany Miller.

Long: Thank you Bethany. Joining me on Stats and Stories for our discussion of Reading, Writing and Statistics - Miami University Statistics Department Chair John Bailer and Media, Journalism and Film Chair Richard Campbell. And our very special guest today is Chris Franklin. She is an honors professor and Undergraduate Coordinator in Statistics at the University of Georgia. And she's here to talk with us about the statistical concepts and why that's so important for all of us if we want to be numerate citizens. I know Chris, you helped the American Statistical Association write the framework for the statistics strand that's in the new national Common Core state standards for K through 12. Why is that so vital today?

Chris Franklin: Well I think Rebecca has answered that question well from the ASA. We are in a data-centric society; we are constantly generating our own data. Every day we are surrounded by media pieces containing data; we go to the doctor and we get the results of a diagnostic test and it's like what are the important questions that we need to ask in terms of how to make an informed decision about a future procedure that we might need. You know it's interesting, I've been teaching for 35 years at the college level. I've been teaching the intro course, many other statistics courses, and every year I ask myself the question, why is it that I have fifteen weeks in a semester to take a student and turn them into a statistically literate citizen? In other words, statistical reasoning, statistical thinking is different from mathematical thinking and I often look at my math colleagues and ask them, how would you feel if you had a student come into your calculus class who's never had any mathematics before and you're expected to help them understand calculus in fifteen weeks. They've had thirteen years before they come to this university to develop mathematical thinking and it's the same with statistical thinking. This is not something that citizens, that students can develop overnight; it needs to be a developmental process and it needs to start in kindergarten.

Long: John Bailer.

John Bailer: Great answer and welcome Chris, we're delighted that you could join us. With the Common Core there's a question, there's been a lot of push-back, there been a lot of discussion now, what is it that the Common Core was hoping to achieve?

Franklin: Well I think the main intent of Common Core was as they say, to develop a mathematics curriculum that's somewhat uniform across the United States that's going to prepare our high school graduates for college and for the workplace. In the past, as you well know, the United States has been one of the few countries that has not had national standards. In other words, each state has their own particular math standards and of course there was no consistency from one state to the next in terms of what was contained in those math standards. So I think that's one issue that you were trying to deal with by having the Common Core standards. I think also with the fact that our society now is so mobile in the United States, families are moving from one state to the next and that becomes a real issue with their children in K-12 as they're now coming into the schools, especially high schools, and you're trying to figure out, where do these students fall in terms of their math background? So I think all of these led to the initiation of trying to have the Common Core standards. Actually the Common Core standards were initiated by the governors of the states in the United States. This was actually a state movement by the governors to try to come up with standards that are more uniform and that would prepare their students for the workplace and for college.

Long: Richard Campbell.

Richard Campbell: Hi Chris, welcome to Miami. I want to see if you can kind of draw a connection to the Common Core and something we've seen for a long time and you're familiar with this. So I do a lot of orientation of our incoming freshman students and when I encourage our journalism students to take statistics, a couple of our majors are required to take statistics, I often see a frown and…

Franklin: I see that a lot too on our first day of class.

Campbell: And I do, as somebody who's been a journalist and a writer, I see in some students the same kind of fear with writing, but this fear of numbers and statistics, what can we do about that? And how much is this related to training at an earlier level in schools?

Franklin: That's a loaded question. I think part of the issue with mathematics in general, and I'm going to say the mathematical sciences because statistics is not mathematics. And that's one of the things that I try to help my students the very first day of my classes understand. They generally come into class thinking, "I'm taking a math class," and without fail, a majority of the students don't really want to be there; they're there because it's required by their major and they're afraid, they're worried that they've never been very good a mathematics. I may be going out on a limb by saying this, but I think a lot of that happens because so many of our teachers at K-12 are not comfortable with mathematics. And watching it with my own children as they've come through, I've always been amazed that in our society, it seems to be okay to say that you don't like mathematics. As a teacher, as a parent, we tell our children, "You know that was always one of my least favorite subjects in school." But I never see teachers saying that reading and writing is not a priority and I've often wondered how we came to this culture that it's okay not to like mathematics when it's really a beautiful, beautiful subject. So I think a lot of that just comes from the way our culture, what our culture accepts, but one of the things I try to do in my classes is help students understand, well it's okay that you feel uncomfortable with mathematics because this is not a math class. And actually what you're going to be doing in my class is you're going to be writing a lot because with statistical thinking and statistical reasoning, what's so important are your communication skills and how you can convey the information you've obtained from carrying out the statistical analysis. And I think it's really important too, that you make it real world to the students. I try to teach my classes based more on case studies and bringing in current media pieces that we discuss and students really gravitate to that. I think we need to actually think about our math classes more in that way as well. I'm not a math teacher, so I'm not trying to tell mathematicians what to do, but the context is very important and making it real world for the students.

Long: I know a lot of people might have been surprised because right at the beginning you mentioned all the way down to kindergarten, what are some of the things we can do at the most elementary level, when kids, to me, are just an open book, they want to learn, but what kind of things can we do?

Franklin: Elementary is like the ideal place to start this. I mean they're sponges at the elementary level and even in kindergarten you're trying to convey those counting skills with students, and one thing that we've learned is that elementary children love to take surveys. They love to take surveys on each other and discover things about each other, so it's really kind of that natural environment to introduce them to the whole idea of "Well what kind of question would we like to answer about our classroom that's going to require us to collect data?" Then talk about how are we going to collect this data; actually have them do it. Now how do we summarize this data, get them into picture-graphs, get them into bar graphs, get them into counting, tallying, the mathematical skills are so natural with carrying out that statistical process. And help the students understand that statistics is important because it helps us to answer questions that mathematics cannot answer.

Long: You're listening to Stats and Stories and today we are talking about reading, writing, and statistics, which again is part of the new emphasis in our Common Core standards nationally for our K-12 kids. Our emphasis is on looking at the statistics behind the stories and the stories behind the statistics on our show. I'm Bob Long. And again our regular panelists are Miami University Statistics Department Chair John Bailer, Media, Journalism and Film Chair Richard Campbell and our special guest today, from the University of Georgia, Chris Franklin. John Bailer, we'll go to you for the next question.

Bailer: Quick follow-up on just the Common Core discussion before we talk a little bit more about data that students are generating. You talked a little bit about the importance of the statistics course they see at the university not be their first exposure to statistical thinking. Given that the Common Core is now requiring that students be exposed to these ideas in middle school and high school, what's this going to look like? What is the additional statistical ideas that students will meet in middle school and high school? And a follow-up question after you tackle that would be to think about, what's then ultimately the consequence of this for students as they go to college and for us thinking about teaching them in college?

Franklin: Well hopefully by the time our students graduate from high school they will have been exposed to the topics and the concepts that compose at least about half or three-fourths of college intro courses. If you look at the standards that are in middle school and high school, most college intro professors will say, well that's what I'm teaching in my college intro class right now. And hopefully by going through grades six through twelve, and we also hope that we can start this at elementary as well, the students have had that opportunity to truly conceptualize and evolve with these statistical concepts, which is what's crucial. So by the time that they do get to college, they're now going into what we're traditionally calling our second course now. So they're getting further exposure and of course the big buzz word now is data science and with the technology available to us now, our college students, on a very common basis, can be exposed to messy data sets and how to really deal with real world data. I think what we heard from our high school teacher earlier, it's very nice to have those clean data sets in a textbook that our students work with, but that's really not real world. Real world is that we have these massive data sets out there and they're messy and they're not clean and learning database management skills, for example, programming skills that will help them become better statisticians. That's my dream of what's going to happen here at the college level, is they'll get that foundation in statistical literacy at K-12 that we're now trying to give them with an intro course at the college level.

Long: Richard Campbell.

Campbell: You mentioned earlier the writing that statisticians do that's needed in statistical understanding. One of my obligations in running a journalism program is so much of the general public knowledge about numbers comes through journalists and I want you to talk a little bit about the errors you see that journalists make because many of them aren't trained the way they need to be in statistical methodology.

Franklin: It's interesting how I get a lot of journalism majors at the University of Georgia and the first day of class they always say, I don't have any idea why I'm in this class. And I let them know by the end of class they will understand and that is because of the role that they play. They are the ones responsible for presenting statistical information to a majority of Americans in the media. I would say if there's one thing I had to identify as the most common misleading that a journalist can do with their writing is the whole idea that studies always have cause and effect conclusions. And that is with the way they give their headlines in the articles. The headlines come across as "this causes this" and more often than not, the study is actually an observational study and not an experimental study where you can't make cause and effect conclusions. And with the attention span of most Americans now, so many Americans never get past the headline to read the actual article; I'm guilty of that. I have to confess, I read the headline and then I move on. So I think that's one thing. The other thing that I often see is they just don't give enough statistical information in the article to where as a consumer of this information you can make informed decisions. You can ask good questions about the design of the study. So I would say that's what's important in terms of writing is that a journalist is comfortable enough with those foundational statistical skills that they can write the pieces to where as a consumer, I have enough information to make an informed decision.

Bailer: Can I follow up with this? If you're going to be writing something like this and page space is limited, and you're saying that you're tempted to stop at the headline as well, do you think there might be resistance to reading some of those details that you're suggesting be built in?

Franklin: Well I think that if we have a statistically literate population, for example when you see Gallop polls reported, when Gallop comes out, they give you the descriptive numbers but then they also give you a short write up about how they sampled, what their margin of error will be for their particular statistics and it's like one paragraph. Now if you are comfortable with the term margin of error and how to interpret that as a statistically literate population, the journalist has done their job.

Bailer: So part of this is that there's going to be an anticipated change of expectation that might be linked to having the Common Core in play if people really have that statistically literacy achieved.

Franklin: That is correct.

Campbell: And some newspapers are good about this. The New York Times will often print that box in the printed version. I think one of the things that we're seeing that's actually helping journalism is the move to online stories where we don't have space limitations or time limitations. There's a lot more interesting stuff online, particularly in terms of data visualization and a lot of things that are there that in the old days you couldn't fit into a newspaper.

Franklin: Well I think this also is something I've been very happy to see, especially with The New York Times in recent years, is how the journalists in newspapers are going to more data visualization in their articles with graphical displays as opposed to trying to rely more on the text and just terminology. Another thing I like to tell my students is that a picture is worth a thousand words and that's really true in terms of reporting statistical information. I say that when I pick up a newspaper, I love it when I see a graph that tells me the story without having to read the article and that is something a journalist needs to become comfortable with, is choosing the appropriate graphical display to tell the story.

Campbell: That reminds me of a funny story that happened when John and I team taught a course called News and Numbers and the first day of class I was a little uncomfortable because my statistical understanding is not what it should be and John put up a display, he put up a chart and then looked at the class and said, "What's the story here?" And I said, "I'm going to be okay, I know what story is about." And he started talking about that, this picture should represent words.

Franklin: And that is what our middle school students are starting to learn in sixth, seventh and eighth grade, is how to explore data and how to show the visualization of distributions and summarizing data.

Bailer: Well you know you'll hear people that say that it's easy to lie with statistics, but I think you've also heard other people say it's a lot easier to lie without it.

Franklin: Correct, I think that's a beautiful saying. And I think if this is successful, you're coming into another context as being a healthy skeptic. If successfully achieving statistical literacy is that healthy skepticism of information that's being presented.

Franklin: That is very key and I've mentioned this before, I always tell my students that I have two main goals when I teach my courses, any course that I teach, this is not just the intro course. These are the more advanced statistics courses as well, is that I want them to truly understand the beauty of statistics, but at the same time, they have to become a healthy skeptic and they have to know the right questions to ask.

Long: You're listening to Stats and Stories and again today we're focusing on the importance of statistics and teaching our children at a much younger age about the importance of statistics so we become a much more literate society. I'm Bob Long and our regular guests are Miami University Statistics Department Chair John Bailer, our Media, Journalism and Film Chair Richard Campbell and special guest today, Chris Franklin, an honors professor and undergraduate coordinator in statistics at the University of Georgia. We wanted to see what people know about our topic so we asked them, what kind of data do you think you generate on the Internet or on social media?

Man on the Street #1: I'm not on Facebook as much as I used to be because honestly it bothered me that when I started putting in what musicians I listened to, a lot of things Facebook prompts you to fill out on your profile, I started getting concert tickets. I saw a direct relation to what I was filling in and the types of ads I was being served.

Woman on the Street #1: Recently I've heard an interview on the radio specifically on this and I didn't realize what they collect and I'm a little more aware. My Facebook, my tweets, my Googles, everything's changing.

Woman on the Street #2: When I'm on Facebook, I think the data they're collecting are the organizations that I like and the communities that I like.

Man on the Street #2: A lot of stuff that I share on Facebook is related to movies or current events and a lot of just dumb, funny stuff I guess.

Long: We also asked people to tell us how they think the data they generate is used by others.

Woman on the Street #3: They use it for marketing in order to target people for products associated with the different communities that they like. For example, the German shepherd dog community, I get a lot of marketing emails regarding products that are associated with pets.

Man on the Street #3: Probably using it to advertise to us, to learn what the youth finds appealing so they can try to break through to younger generations.

Man on the Street #4: I know Google collects a lot of data on your surfing habits and uses that to generate profiles and surveys, but again I use AdBlock a lot for that reason.

Woman on the Street #4: They are spying on us. They're watching what we buy, what we take photos of, where we vacation, where we go to dinner, where we shop, and that frightens me.

Long: Out there in that great ether, what happens to all that information? Is that something else that you're really trying to get college level students to understand?

Franklin: It is. It's almost like when you mention it to students, they're taken aback. They never really thought about that. And so I do try to help them understand that you are generating massive amounts of data and it's all being stored. Now how it's being used, you may not know. Now fortunately there are apps now of the sort that if they want to make the effort, realize how their data is being used. I think this is a wonderful way to bring up questions of ethics in terms of data collection. And so once again, we're able to start talking about topics now that I think in the past we never even began to talk about with statistics, and I think ethics is one of them.

Long: I think Bethany Miller's report that she did earlier in the program kind of touched on that, that there are places you can go to find out that information. Is that something that you think that most people, not just college students, but people in general are unaware?

Franklin: I think so. I think most people are unaware of that. And I think even if they are aware of it, I'm not sure how many people make the effort to find out.

Long: John Bailer.

Bailer: I think it's interesting that you're mentioning the idea of ethics. I'm sure that that's almost a shock to the system for some of the students that are in a class like this because they are expecting more manipulation and procedure and it sounds like what you'd push for and actually we do as well is deeper understanding in thinking about this and also appropriate use of the tools that you're using to explore. What are some of the, if you were going to describe someone, if you're successful and you've helped someone become statistically literate, what would they look like as a citizen? I know that's a huge question.

Franklin: Well I think, maybe I'll just give you an example of how I feel like maybe I've been successful with teaching my students. It's amazing how many emails I receive from my previous students six weeks, six months, a year, five years out where they send me, "I saw this interesting story, I want you to look at this. Look at this misleading graph. I thought this was something you could use in your book." Or "I'm really disturbed by the way this study was written up." And to me that's my goal. It's when I hear back from my former students way into the future and I know they are reading that statistical information with a critical eye, that's what I call a statistically literate student.

Bailer: I like that.

Long: Richard Campbell.

Campbell: Following up on that, what do you think are obstacles to the statistical literacy movement? What's blocking that? I know you'd like to see this extended to elementary school. I mean John and I worked on a quantitative literacy movement here at Miami and frankly it probably should have been in place many years earlier.

Franklin: Well I think there's a couple of big obstacles that I'll just mention. There's many of course, many obstacles with any kind of new movement. I think part of it is as parents, let me talk from a parent's perspective and this I think applies to the whole new math movement is that parents are seeing their children coming home with homework that they didn't have when they were students. And statistics of course is one of them; that's totally new for a lot of these parents because many of them have never actually had a formal statistics course. And so I don't know how to help my child with this. This is not something that I had when I was in K-12. And so I think it's just that uncertainty as a parent. It always bothered me when I couldn't help my children with certain homework. Now fortunately math I could, but there were certain areas that I couldn't. So I think that, but I think that even a bigger obstacle right now, an unintentional obstacle, is that our teachers are struggling to know how to teach this material. Most of our K-12 teachers have not come through at a time in their teacher preparation program where statistics was part of the training that they received as math teachers; it was focused mostly on the mathematical concepts. So now we have these new standards and we have teachers that have never actually had formal training in teaching statistics. And if they did have a statistics course, it might have been more the old-style, what I like to call the plug and chug, which was before the age of the technology where technology has allowed us to teach more conceptual courses and more case study based courses. So I think those are two potential obstacles to this.

Long: John Bailer, time for one final question here.

Bailer: Okay Chris, if you had a magic wand that you could wave and make a change, you can only use it for one change, one change to the teaching of introductory statistics, and you can pick the level, so what would it be?

Franklin: Oh, if I could change one thing? That's tough because there's so many I want to change.

Bailer: Well we'll give you an extra wish or two at the end.

Franklin: If I could just magically help everyone that teaches introductory statistics feel comfortable with using technology to where they can teach a more conceptually based course and a more, what I call statistical literacy course, and that is understand how to use simulation, understand how to use technology to emphasize visual displays with our students. Not so much let's just rely on numerical summaries for example. Understand the importance of talking about that statistical process of how, don't teach your course as just a set of disjointed topics, but just try to give the big picture to your students, that we're trying to answer a question, we need to think about how to collect the data, how to analyze it, how to connect our conclusion back to that question. That's big because that's not the way most people have been trained to teach statistics. And I think if I can wave a wand and I could just accomplish that with everyone that is being asked to teach statistics, that would be big. But then you're asking people to change the way they learned, so it's going to be a big goal.

Long: Chris Franklin, thank you very much for joining us on Stats and Stories to give us your insights on the importance of learning to analyze data. If you'd like to share your thoughts on our program, you can also send your email to Be sure to listen for future editions of Stats and Stories where as always, we discuss the statistics behind the stories and the stories behind the statistics