Is context king?

For many of us that have been teaching statistics for a long time, we know how important context is in relation to teaching statistical ideas and concepts. The data we look at in statistics has meaning behind the numbers, they relate to something in the world around us.

So how do we choose a context that’s meaningful, and how can we learn from our experiences in knowing what types of contexts work well with our students, in terms of engaging and motivating them well? Both new and more experienced educators can find this a difficult task.

Here are several points to get you to think through, when selecting a context to explore statistical ideas and concepts:

  • Which contexts do you choose? Discipline specific or interdisciplinary contexts? 
  • Are the contexts you have chosen interesting to your students or to you? 
  • Are you confident in using the context correctly, as well as the statistical terms being used?
  • Can students make the conceptual leaps/relational understanding between the contextual information, and the statistical thinking skills you want them to develop? 
  • If you do choose an interdisciplinary context, how easily will the students be able to weave information from different disciplines together? 
  • Be mindful that choosing certain topics could touch a nerve with students in your class, choosing topics based on cancer for example, where someone in their family might be suffering from the disease. However, we should also endeavour not to shield our students from reality and the world that exists around us, showing them the many forms of data that exist, applicable to lots of exciting and interesting contexts.

We are currently living through a pandemic that is producing a lot of data, being an interesting and timely context. Should we use it? I think we should, although we should be mindful of the points above (being sensitive to students who may have been affected by this). 

There are several other things to think about when choosing a context to teach statistical ideas, and a lot will depend on what you are actually teaching! However, I hope the points above will help you to think about the topics you choose to share with your students. 

If you are thinking of doing an experiment with your students, I have written a paper that explores ways to get students to measure creativity and intelligence that you might find useful:

Several of the ideas shared in this post also link to a paper I wrote based on using video clips to kick-start statistical thinking:  

This post outlines key points that I use to think about, when choosing engaging and motivating contexts to teach statistical ideas and concepts to several of the statistics classes I teach at university. These prompts can also be used for students in secondary schools. Please please please PLEASE! Get in touch if you’d like to bounce around ideas in relation to this post. Always happy to offer advice and love learning from others 😊 Diolch!