Sunday, December 9, 2012

Cliff Konold Demonstrates Data Games, Discusses Research at UMN

"I don't think that we've really demonstrated that we can teach the fundamental ideas at any level. It'd sure be nice to do that!"
Cliff Konold, Director of the Scientific Reasoning Research Institute (SRRI) and Research Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, graced us with his presence on Friday, November 30. He is a major voice in the statistics education research community, and our CATALST course makes extensive use of the software he helped design, TinkerPlots™, for learning introductory statistics using simulation, randomization, and the bootstrap.

Cliff the Researcher

Cliff started out the day, however, wearing his researcher hat. Students in Joan Garfield's statistics education research seminar asked him about his evolution as a researcher, accompanied by a dotplot ("headplot"?) of all his first-author papers, as reported by his publications page at UMass:

Over the years, Cliff has used his head extensively for research purposes

Cliff's research has ranged from close studies of how people perceive randomness to informal inference and data analysis. He said his most proud accomplishment as a researcher is his 2002 Journal for Research in Mathematics Education article with fellow UMass researcher Alexander Pollatsek, "Data analysis as the search for signals in noisy processes", which explores why students are not comprehending the usefulness of measures of center. They argue that ideas of stochastic processes, rather than samples and populations, should be more emphasized in statistics instruction.

Cliff's papers getting all mixed up in TinkerPlots™.
Students Elizabeth Fry and Ethan Brown then decided to turn Cliff's creation against him. They put a selection of his papers into a TinkerPlots™ mixer—a simulated device for random sampling—and shuffled them to pick two papers to discuss with him. The first was a 1997 paper that Ruma Falk was the lead author on, "Making Sense of Randomness: Implicit Encoding as a Basis for Judgment" in Psychological Review. Cliff thought of this as some of the tightest research that came out of SRRI and described what a pleasure it was to have Ruma Falk there visiting and collaborating. The next paper which popped out of the mixer, "Understanding probability and statistical inference through resampling" from 1994, sparked reminiscences of getting deeply lost in Perugia, Italy at the first meeting of the International Conference on Teaching Statistics, where he presented the paper.

Cliff the Software Designer

For the afternoon, Cliff put on his software designer hat to show us his latest project with KCP Technologies, Inc., Data Games, a series of activities where students have to successfully analyze game data to improve their strategy. He's a co-PI on this project with Bill Finzer (see the full team here).

But his researcher hat was still on, poking out from below the software designer hat! Cliff discussed how we typically introduce students to univariate data by discussing natural objects or events such as people's heights. He argues, however, that this is actually a very difficult context to think about measures of center and variability, because there is no concrete thing that the "average person's height" represents.

Instead, he proposes that we can more easily teach these concepts using repeated measures settings. He designed an activity where different students measure the teacher's head; in this case, the center of the distribution is the actual person's head, and the variability is the student's errors in measurement (rounding issues, where exactly they hold the measuring tape, and so on).

Cliff uses not only his own head, but Professor Joan Garfield's as well.
Another promising setting is a production processes: in this settings, the center is the target of the process, and the variability is a combination of measurement error and production errors, which again can be named and pointed to.

But how can these be efficiently brought into the classroom? Having students do a production process or repeated measures takes quite a lot of time to collect the data. This is where the Data Games project comes in.

Ship Odyssey teaches students how to use rats for statistical inference.
Ship Odyssey gives students a chance to engage with repeated measures in a fanciful simulated environment. As intrepid treasure hunters on the high seas of yesteryear, gamers can send down highly skilled rats who find a treasure and then swim up. But they don't swim precisely straight up—they may get tossed to and fro, introducing variability. Students learn how to send down enough rats to get a good estimate of the center of the rat-measures distribution. When they send down their hook, they either see that they've collected a pile of sludge or they hear the satisfying cha-ching of successfully getting the treasure.

We had a great time seeing Cliff and hearing about his research, and we can't wait to see how Data Games develops. In the meantime, our challenge is to not let playing Ship Odyssey distract us from our end of semester work!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Senior Lecturer Michelle Everson on Online Discussions, News-Based Activities, and the Journal of Statistics Education

"I feel I get to know each student's voice more in the online course because I get to witness how he or she talks through different concepts and ideas and I get to witness how that changes over the course of the semester."

The latest issue of the Journal of Statistics Education features Allan Rossman's interview [PDF] with our very own Senior Lecturer, Michelle Everson! Michelle discusses her path to teaching and her growth as an online teacher and member of the statistics education community, and her ideas for the future direction of the Journal of Statistics Education as she prepares to take on the mantle of head editor.

How can we engage students with news stories? Can online environments help shy students flourish? What are ways that statistics educators can collaborate more? Michelle shares her honest and thoughtful insights from her years of award-winning teaching and designing courses.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Graduate Programs in Statistics Education Workshop: Planning for a Vibrant Future

Where will future statistics education researchers come from? The discipline now has journals and conferences, but we face a need for systematic, high quality training of a continual pipeline of statistics education researchers to create a flow of fresh perspectives that integrate with a deep understanding of what has been learned before.

Building on the successes of its 10-year-old statistics education program in the Department of Educational Psychology, the University of Minnesota hosted a Graduate Programs in Statistics Education Workshop on September 28, 2012, for other institutions looking to develop their programs, connect their research, and find opportunities for collaboration. This meeting at UMN's STEM Education Center brought together faculty already involved in planning and implementing these efforts to share their progress, consult on challenges, and form productive collaborations, and was made possible by a Member Initiated Grant from the American Statistical Association (ASA).

Xiao-Li Meng
On the first day, we heard from participants about the main issues that institutions face in implementing statistics education graduate programs. What departments should a statistics education program be affiliated with? How should the teaching and research components be balanced? How much statistics training should be involved? How should statistics education non-degree, Masters, and Ph.D. programs fit with structures in place for Mathematics or Science Education Ph.D.s? Xiao-Li Meng of Harvard University discussed the importance of preparing excellent statistics instructors, and Dennis Pearl of Ohio State University discussed how the current workshop related to guidelines [PDF] developed by a previous workshop that was endorsed by the ASA and the Consortium for the Advancement of Undergraduate Statistics Education. Joan Garfield and Michelle Everson of the University of Minnesota discussed the issues and challenges of a "Stat Ed 101" course with participants.

Dick Scheaffer, Mike Shaughnessy
The participants got to work on the second day to brainstorm next steps. Dick Scheaffer (past president of ASA) and Mike Shaughnessy (past president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) set the tone by discussing the importance of statistics education graduate programs to K-12 teachers, and much of the remainder of the day was spent on small group discussions on the logistics, funding, and coursework that would be involved in non-degree, Masters, and Ph.D. programs. Dennis Pearl provided context for the discussion by providing an overview of a report that resulted from an American Statistical Association retreat on research priorities for statistics education, Connecting Research to Practice in a Culture of Assessment for Introductory College-level Statistics [PDF].

This report underscores why we need these statistics education programs to begin with: the urgent need to improve our understanding of cognitive outcomes, affective constructs, curriculum, teaching practice, teacher development, technology, and assessment in our field means we need strong institutional homes and training grounds for improving the breadth and effectiveness of the research.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Celebrating 10 Years of the Graduate Program in Statistics Education

So many friends came to Minnesota last month to help us celebrate the beginning of our second decade! They were from nearby, or from faraway; wise, or wet-behind the ears; and their academic affiliations showed the omnipresent variability of disciplines that inform our field -- curriculum and instruction, mathematics education, educational psychology, statistics, mathematics, and more. It was a lovely celebration, and we're quite grateful to the STEM Center at the University of Minnesota for helping us to toast the future of statistics education.

The night started with an unexpected haunting by our program's ghosts of statistics education past (Joan Garfield), present (Andy Zieffler), and future (Rebekah Isaak):

Bob delMas, who clearly has been having far too much fun on sabbatical in Australia, challenged the audience in this video to recognize as many catchy statistics education acronyms as possible... and to grapple with the thought-provoking cosmic mystery of pants:

Our supporters, friends, and colleagues who helped us get here chimed in with their reflections. Tamara Moore of the University of Minnesota STEM Center talked about her journey to understanding the relations between statistics and math education, and Michael Rodriguez discussed the healthy challenges that the program and its students bring to the university. Daniel Kaplan of Macalester College challenged us to think about the urgency of quantitative literacy for today's students. Dani Ben-Zvi of University of Haifa and Beth Chance of California Polytechnic State University shared reflections on their professional journeys in statistics education alongside Joan Garfield, while Rob Gould of UCLA dressed her up in a chef's outfit (with a little help from Photoshop). Dennis Pearl of wrapped up the speeches by discussing the importance of the work that's being done at the University of Minnesota and elsewhere to train the next generation of statistics education researchers.

To make the field sustainable, however, there needs to be more statistics education programs. That's why we also hosted a workshop on how to start more, so stay tuned to find out more about how that went.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

CATALST Textbook

Andrew Zieffler, Joan Garfield, Robert delMas, Rebekah Isaak, Laura Le, and Laura Ziegler of Educational Psychology, have responded to concerns about high textbook prices for students enrolled in classroom sections of an undergraduate course, Basic and Applied Statistics (EPsy 3264), by producing an e-book entitled Statistical Thinking: A Simulation Approach to Modeling Uncertainty. It is available through; the combined price of the textbook and software required for the course costs students as little as $15. (In previous semesters the textbook alone cost student $95.)

[Read the full article here]

Monday, August 13, 2012

Welcome to the Newest Catalysts for Change!

We have two new additions to the Catalysts for Change. Congratulations Laura and Laura!

Sean Ziegler
Evan Le

Both babies and moms are doing well.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

CATALST Article Published in ZDM

ZDM–The International Journal on Mathematics Education has just published an article on the CATALST course. The article, Developing Statistical Modelers and Thinkers in an Introductory, Tertiary-Level Statistics Course, is available in the August, 2012 issue and can be accessed at

Monday, August 6, 2012

Congratulations Nick, Rob, Judy and Michael!

Rob Gould, Nick Horton and Judy Singer were made Fellows of the American Statistical Association at Joint Statistics Meetings in San Diego.  Below are the brief bios and pictures that appeared in the official program.

Rob's visage is posted to the big screen as his name is called.

Also congratulations to Michael Posner, who was awarded the Waller Education Award!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

2012 AP Statistics Readings

Laura Ziegler and Liz Fry participated in the 2012 AP Statistics Readings in Kansas City, MO.  They got to enjoy some authentic Kansas City cuisine, including barbeque and fried chicken.  Liz participated in the acorn skit, which featured a group performance of the song "S-T-A-T" sung to the tune of "Y-M-C-A".  AP's gift to the readers was an umbrella, but of course, it did not rain all week while they were outside!
Gradin' in the rain...
Just gradin' in the rain.

Laura and Liz stare longingly out the window at the Kansas City skyline.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Laura Le, Rebekah Isaak, and Laura Ziegler–Iron Chefs of Randomization

Rebekah Isaak, Laura Le, and Laura Ziegler conducted a virtual, interactive workshop on May 17, 2012 as part of the first Electronic Conference on Teaching Statistics (eCOTS) ( Registration for the workshop filled in record time and over 30 participants from across the country and around the world attended. A recording of the workshop will be available on the CAUSEweb site ( in the near future.

The workshop, entitled A Flavor of the CATALST Course: Using Randomization-Based Methods in an Introductory Statistics Course, gave participants an overview of the CATALST course ( and introduced them to various components of this course. The topics covered range from a radically different first day activity, the iPod Shuffle Model Eliciting Activity, to the types of assessments used in the course. Participants were left unmuted for the duration of the workshop in order to foster the interactive nature of the course. This resulted in lively discussion and many of the participants spoke up with insightful comments and good questions.

In addition to the information Rebekah, Laura, and Laura shared based on their experiences teaching the CATALST course, Joe Nowakowski and Sheila Weaver shared their reflections on teaching the course for the first time this spring. They talked about their concerns going into teaching the course, what it was like to teach it for the first time, what they liked about it, challenges they encountered, and recommendations for anyone interested in teaching it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

eCOTS 2012

Michelle Everson served as the chair of the programming committee for the first Electronic Conference on Teaching Statistics (eCOTS).  This conference took place May 14-18, 2012, and all recorded sessions and materials from the conference will eventually be housed for public view on the CAUSEweb site (  A total of 420 individuals registered for eCOTS, and registrants were able to take part in live break-out sessions early in the week on topics related to teaching the “modern student”, debating the “big ideas,” and technology resources for use in the statistics classroom.  Over 20 virtual posters (i.e., short five minute video presentations) were also on display for participants to review, and a discussion board was set up for each poster so conference attendees could leave questions and comments for the poster author(s).

On May 17th, Rebekah Isaak, Laura Le, and Laura Ziegler led a workshop about the CATALST curriculum for 30 educators, and a recording for this workshop will also soon be available on CAUSEweb.  The conference drew to a close with keynote presentations by Hans Rosling (who presented on using a fact-based world view to engage students) and Webster West (who discussed the impact of technology on the teaching of statistics).

eCOTS was definitely an energizing experience for all involved, and we are already looking ahead to eCOTS 2014!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Catalysts for Change Publish in JSE

Andrew Zieffler, Jiyoon Park, Joan Garfield, Robert delMas, and Audbjorg Bjornsdottir recently published an article on their work with the Statistics Teaching Inventory in the Journal of Statistics Education.

This paper reports on an instrument designed to assess the practices and beliefs of instructors of introductory statistics courses across the disciplines. Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, this project developed, piloted, and gathered validity evidence for the Statistics Teaching Inventory (STI). The instrument consists of 50 items in six parts and is administered online. The development of the instrument and the gathering and analysis of validity evidence are described. Plans and suggestions for use of the STI are offered.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Allan Rossman Gives Grand Finale Talk in Becoming a Teacher of Statistics Course

Allan Rossman: His favorite polysyllabic word is 'polysyllabic'.

Inspired by the Xiao-Li's graduate course on teaching statistics at Harvard, Joan Garfield and Michelle Everson decided to add a Grand Finale speaker to their course: Becoming a Teacher of Statistics. The Grand Finale speaker this spring was Allan Rossman, who addressed the class (and a few guests) on Monday May 7.

His advice regarding good teaching: Ask good questions!

The students in this class enjoyed a variety of guest speakers during the semester. Bob delMas, Danny Kaplan, Julie Legler, and Audbjorg Bjornsdottir all made guest appearances in the course. Other speakers were 'brought' to the course and via Skype, including Michael Bulmer, Nick Horton, Chris Franklin, Cary Roseth, Robin Lock, Kari Lock Morgan, George Cobb, and Rob Gould.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Laura Le Wins Teaching Award

Laura Le was the winner of the 2011-2012 graduate student teaching award in the Quantitative Methods in Education program. Congratulations Laura!

Laura just finished up her third year of coursework in the doctoral program and has a busy summer ahead of her writing her pre-dissertation paper and working with Laura Ziegler to overhaul our Master's-level statistics courses.

Laura contemplates the next iteration of CATALST.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Graduating Catalysts for Change

Two Catalysts for Change, Audbjorg Bjornsdottir and Jiyoon Park, participated in the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development commencement this previous Thursday (May 10, 2012). Auja successfully defended her thesis earlier that same day (congratulations Dr. Auja!), and Jiyoon will be defending her thesis later this summer. Four of the faculty from Statistics Education attended the commencement, and all four participated in the hooding of the two students.

Jiyoon Park, Anica Bowe, and Audbjorg Bjornsdottir at the 2012 CEHD commencement. 

Michelle Everson, Andrew Zieffler, Robert delMas, and Joan Garfield at the 2012 CEHD commencement.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Catalysts to Present at University of Minnesota Biostatistics Seminar

The Catalysts for Change will be presenting at the University of Minnesota Biostatistics Seminar on Wednesday, March 28 from 3:30.p.m.–4:30 p.m. The presentation, A New Flavor of the Introductory Statistics Course: Teaching Students to Cook, is open to the public (Moos Tower 2-530).

Abstract: This presentation will share information on the NSF-funded CATALST (Change Agents for Teaching and Learning Statistics) curriculum which uses randomization and resampling methods as the core of a radically different introductory statistics course. The content, technology tools, pedagogical methods, and assessments will be described, as well as some preliminary evaluation data on the effectiveness of this approach.

A social tea will be held at 3:00 p.m. in A434 Mayo. For more details contact 612-624-4655.

Mother Goose (Joan) and her goslings (from left: Rebekah Isaak, Laura Ziegler, Bob delMas, Laura Le, and Andy Zieffler) at the 2012 Joint Mathematics Meetings.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Catalysts Present at CEHD International Connections

Audbjorg Bjornsdottir and Jiyoon Park made a presentation titled Development of an International Survey of Statistics Teaching Practice and Beliefs at the CEHD International Connections on February 16, 2012. Auja and Jiyoon were part of a research project that designed the Statistics Teaching Inventory (STI) to assess the practices and beliefs of instructors of introductory statistics courses across the disciplines in the USA. This talk presented the STI as well as a project to develop an international version of the STI instrument.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Catalyst Team in Boston

Danny Kaplan was presented with the Dex Whittinghill Award for best contributed paper at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Boston on Wednesday evening.

Other highlights included Rebekah Isaak presenting on the MOSAIC project, Joan and Andy taking part in a panel presentation about the Common Core standards, posters presented by Laura Ziegler (CATALST), Laura Le (e-ATLAS), Robert delMas (STURR) and Danny Kaplan (MOSAIC), "Catalyst Cooks coming to Harvard", and a workshop with implementers of the CATALST curriculum.

Joan and Andy on the Common Core Standards panel.

Lively discussion at the CATALST Implementers Workshop.

Minnesota Alley at the NSF poster session.

Joan and Carl Morris discuss cooking.
Rebekah explains CATALST to Casey while Art Dempster (on wall) looks on.