Sunday, January 23, 2011

Words vs. Real Change

As leaders in statistics education continue to inspire us to change our teaching and assessment methods, push ahead in letting go of old content, and incorporate new technological tools in the classroom, Seth Godin, the author of Tribes, reminds us that
It's a lot easier for an organization to adopt new words than it is to actually change anything. Real change is uncomfortable. If it's not feeling that way, you've probably just adopted new words.
"Assessment for learning", "bootstrapping", and "cooperative-learning" are only a part of the rhetoric until we embrace these ideas in the classroom. Sometimes making these changes seems like they are beyond difficult, and they can certainly be time-consuming in terms of preparation. But the end result is awe-inspiring.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Stat Chat Set to Resume January 25

The spring session of Stat Chat begins on Tuesday January 25, 2011. Stat Chat is an informal, but informative, monthly get-together of local statistics educators. We meet in room 205 of the Olin-Rice Science Center at Macalester College [See Map].

The agenda for this Stat Chat is as follows:

  • 6:00 - 6:30, Dinner
  • 6:30 - 7:00, Journal Club: Proofiness (Victor Addona and Paul Alper)
  • 7:00 - 7:10, Announcement: The upcoming USCOTS conference.
    7:10 - 8:00, Main Event: Team-based Learning (Katie St Clair)

During this month's journal club (see below), we will discuss the book Proofiness: The Dark Art of Mathematical Deception, by Charles Seife (a mathematically trained journalist/science writer). During the main event, Katie St Clair will discuss team-based learning (TBL), a pedagogical strategy that involves groups of students working together in teams to learn and apply the course concepts. She will give an overview of TBL principles and talk about how TBL has been used in a statistics literacy class at Carleton College.

PLEASE RSVP to Danny Kaplan so that we can plan sensibly for dinner. As always, last-minute deciders and guests are welcome.

Journal Club

Journal club was introduced at Stat Chat during the 2009-2010 academic year as a venue for discussing articles, books, etc. with other statistics educators. The following online resources are provided for this month's discussion of Proofiness: The Dark Art of Mathematical Deception. Briefly, "proofiness" is defined as
the art of using bogus mathematical arguments to prove something that you know in your heart is true - even when it's not. 
The New York Times published a short (2-page) excerpt from the book on their website in September [Read Except] and an interview with author Charles Seife in October [Read Interview]. The book has received overwhelmingly favorable reviews. Here is a brief list of some of those reviews:

  • Chance News [Read Review]
  • Steven Strogatz, Professor of Applied Mathematics, Cornell University [Read Review]
  • John Allen Paulos, Professor of Mathematics, Temple University (also the author of Innumeracy, A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper, and Irreligion[Read Review]

Some discussion questions:

  • Drawing upon the above links, and/or any of your experiences as teachers of statistics, which do you feel are the most effective/ineffective examples of proofiness, and why?
  • Is there a place for proofiness (the concept), and/or Proofiness (the book) in an introductory statistics (or a quantitative reasoning) class?
  • Do you have any reservations about using portions of this book as assigned reading in a course?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Wiley to Publish Book on Randomization and Bootstrap Methods

Andy Zieffler has recently finished the writing of a manuscript for John Wiley & Sons called  Comparing Groups: Randomization and Bootstrap Methods Using R. It was intended as a graduate-level statistics textbook for courses offered in social science programs. The content provides the statistical foundation for researchers interested in answering questions about group differences through the introduction and application of current statistical methods made possible through computation—including the use of Monte Carlo simulation, bootstrapping, and randomization tests. Rather than focus on mathematical calculations like so many other introductory texts in the behavioral sciences, the approach taken in this monograph is to focus on conceptual explanations and the use of statistical computing. We agree with the sentiments of David Moore, who stated,
calculating sums of squares by hand does not increase understanding; it merely numbs the mind.
At the heart of every chapter there is an emphasis on the direct link between research questions and data analysis. Purposeful attention is paid to the integration of design, statistical methodology and computation to propose answers to research questions based on appropriate analysis and interpretation of quantitative data. Practical suggestions for analysis and the presentation of results based on suggestions from the \textit{APA Publication Manual} are also included. These suggestions are intended to help researchers clearly communicate the results of a data analysis to their audience.

Perhaps the best writing in the book will be in the Foreword, which George Cobb was gracious enough to write (even after reading the book). You can check out the non-existent, generic fill-in cover image at Amazon (where Joan pointed out that it is $40 cheaper than on Wiley's site.)

The cover I wanted for the book is the picture shown. This is a work from Jason Salavon based on MTV's 6th Greatest Music Video of All Time, the Guns 'N Roses classic...Sweet Child of Mine. According to Jason's website,
Each of the videos in the top 10 of this list were digitized in their entirety and the individual frames were simplified to their mean average color, eliminating overt content. These solid-colored squares were then arranged in their original sequence and are read left-to-right, top-to-bottom.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Randomness and Pseudorandomness

For all of you podcast listeners, Melvin Bragg and his guests recently discussed ideas of randomness and pseudorandomness on the BBC program In Our Time. It was an interesting piece, especially given the fact that the sections of the CATALST course at the University of Minnesota start tomorrow with the iPod Shuffle MEA.

Randomness is the mathematics of the unpredictable. Dice and roulette wheels produce random numbers: those which are unpredictable and display no pattern. But mathematicians also talk of 'pseudorandom' numbers - those which appear to be random but are not.

In the last century random numbers have become enormously useful to statisticians, computer scientists and cryptographers. But true randomness is difficult to find, and mathematicians have devised many ingenious solutions to harness or simulate it. These range from the Premium Bonds computer ERNIE (whose name stands for Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment) to new methods involving quantum physics.

Digital computers are incapable of behaving in a truly random fashion - so instead mathematicians have taught them how to harness pseudorandomness. This technique is used daily by weather forecasters, statisticians, and computer chip designers - and it's thanks to pseudorandomness that secure credit card transactions are possible.

Friday, January 7, 2011

It's a Catalyst Caption Contest

We need captions for the following two photographs. Bonus points for including statistical jokes or cooking metaphors. Send your winning entries to by January 20. The winning caption will be forever enshrined upon the blog.

Joint Mathematics Meeting Poster Session

Catalysts for Change were prevalent at the 2011 Joint Mathematics Meeting Poster Session.

Rebekah is taller than the Project MOSAIC poster. when she wears heels.

Auja and Rebekah listen intently as Joan no doubt expresses a new cooking metaphor.
Two Catalysts for Change on the Project MOSAIC poster – R and Princess Park.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Catalysts at JMM

The Catalyst team is getting ready for an action packed trip to New Orleans for the Joint Mathematics Meetings. On the agenda are several talks, posters, and meetings. Here is just a smattering:


  • CATALST Implementers Meeting (Friday January 7, 2011, 12:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m.; Saturday January 8, 2011, 8:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m.; Evergreen Room, 4th floor Sheraton)
  • CATALST PI Meeting (Saturday January 8, 2011, 12:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m.)
  • SIGMAA Officers Meeting (Friday January 7, 2011, 10:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m.; La Galerie 6, 2nd Floor, Marriott)
  • SIGMAA Statistics Education Business Meeting and Reception – (Friday January 7, 2011, 5:45 p.m.-7:15 p.m.; La Galerie 6, 2nd Floor, Marriott)
See you all in New Orleans!