August 3rd, 2009
Statistics For All High School Students?
A friend pointed me at this TED talk: Arthur Benjamin’s formula for changing math education.
In it a mathematics professor questions the assumption that after algebra and geometry students should take calculus. He specifically questions high school course sequences where calculus is presented as the final course in the sequence and all college-bound students are encouraged to take it. Instead he thinks we should strive to have all students complete a comprehensive statistics course before graduating high school.
I think he’s on to something. Statistics is more broadly applicable than calculus. In college, majors that require calculus (hard sciences, math, engineering, econ) also require a course in statistics. But majors that require statistics (psychology, sociology, education, nursing, etc) don’t usually require calculus. Outside of college statistics are everywhere from presidential approval ratings, to commercials, to standardized test scores.
In addition, I feel statistics is a lot more approachable in calculus. By high school most students have heard poll numbers on the news, they’ve talked about averages in reference to their grades, and have likely gambled a bit with friends. Teenagers are interested in concepts of popularity, ranking and differences between groups. All of these real life experiences can be related to stats and used to make the course both practical and fun. I wonder how many more students would do 3 or 4 years of high school math if it wasn’t all about “getting ready for calculus” and instead was learning about gambling, polling, and other things that were applicable to day to day life as an adult.