Changes I’m Making In My Statistics Classes – StatCrunch

February 11, 2010 at 3:22 pm 1 comment

I’ve been teaching Introductory Statistics at College of the Sequoias for 17 years, and for the first time in a long while I’m making some significant changes in the way I’m teaching. One of the major changes is in the form of technology – I am using StatCrunch for the first time and I am loving it.

We used to use Minitab, but it became too costly for our college and none of our students had access at home. We then switched to Excel (with all of its issues) because it was already on all of our campus computers, and some students had access from home. I really like the TI-83/84, but since this was a terminal class it was hard to require students to spend $100 or so on a calculator they wouldn’t use again. There is also the problem of transferring data to the calculator.

StatCrunch has solved all of these problems for me – it’s basically a technological equalizer. My students all have access through MyMathLab, they can access it on campus or at home, there was no cost above what was already required in terms of the text and MyMathLab access, and it is quite easy to share data with students. (Currently students do not have full access for posting surveys, data, and results, but my understanding is that they will have full access starting in Fall 2010.)

My class time is now set up in 4 parts: lecture on new topics (including working by hand), conceptual interpretation, StatCrunch demo, and group assignment or assessment. The amount of time devoted to each part varies depending on the material, but the plan is to spend more time on conceptual understanding and group activities.

Today my class is taking their first exam on descriptive statistics, and it looks a lot different than my old exams. Gone is the problem with 40 data values, asking for 10 different measures and 0 understanding. Looking back, it was basically a “Do you know how to use your calculator?” question. In its place is a take home supplement that is worth 20% of their test grade. I gave my students 2 sets of test scores and asked for a full analysis using StatCrunch, using all of the tools we have learned to date. They then are asked to use their results to address the question “Are the two exams of equal difficulty?” They are being asked to use technology and interpret their results in an intelligent manner, which I think should be the main goal of an intro stat course. If you’d like a copy of the assignment, send me a request through the Contact page on my web site.

Also gone is the problem asking them to draw a pie chart. When would someone ever do that by hand? Isn’t it more important that a student can read and interpret a pie chart?

In one problem I particularly like I provided a stem and leaf display and asked my students to create a 5-number summary for the data. Interpreting a stem and leaf display already generated by technology is a practical skill.

When I first started at my college I taught the computer science courses. Computer Science 1 was taught using FORTRAN. That’s right, I said FORTRAN. My exams were pencil and paper exams, and students could not use any resources. When our college built a new math building, there was a computer lab that I could teach the course in. I asked students to actually write programs during their exam, and I allowed them to use their resources, because I thought that was how things were likely to work in the real world. I started using group projects because I thought it would prepare them for the type of programming they would be doing in the real world. Now I find myself thinking, “Isn’t it time to bring the same approach to my statistics classes?” My only regret is that it took me so long to get here.


I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. Do you have any questions about statistics or StatCrunch? Leave a comment, or drop me a line through Contact page on my web site.


Entry filed under: General Teaching, Math, Potpourri. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Susan  |  March 9, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    I have students use Jing to take pictures of their StatCrunch output and post it in the Course Compass Discussion Boards. They can post data, post a histogrm, post a boxplot, talk about z-scores from the data and what they mean, etc. It is excellent!

    I’m going to look for you at ICTCM!


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