By Whitney George


A few years ago, I taught an introductory statistics class three semesters in a row. In general, my students had only basic math skills. I thought that a good way to teach these students the material, without losing their interest and without losing them, was to do exploratory activities. I would use activities to inspire questions and then use these questions to introduce the math. However, sometimes these activities didn't' work as well as I had hoped.

Throughout my experience in teaching, I have always wondered if I should or shouldn't allow my students to use calculators/technology. If I did allow them to use calculators, how could I guarantee that the calculator would only be an aid and not a crutch? In particular, in a statistics class, the students could be easily bogged down calculating standard deviations. There are calculators that can quickly compute a standard deviation, given a list of numbers. However, if a student uses a calculator and doesn't use the formula for standard deviation, then how much "math" are they doing? Also, this formula is extremely useful in understanding what the standard deviation is! Hence, my dilemma.

In taking EMAT 6680, I have learned, among other things, how to better use technology in teaching. While technology can easily become a crutch, if used correctly, technology can be very enlightening. Because statistics was a class that I really struggled in using technology, I decided to devote the twelfth assignment for EMAT 6680 to a statistics project.

Below is an Excel attachment that is designed to help students understand the relationship between probability and actual events occurring. For instance, in playing a game of poker, there is a certain probability that you'll get a full house, but you could play 1,00 hands of poker and never get a full house. This project deals with flipping coins. My idea for this project is to be used once the definitions of probability has been introduced in a class. The students are asked to flip 4 coins. As the number of times they flip the coins increases, they'll see graphs corresponding to the percentage that each event happens. The idea is that the graphs will start to look more and more like the probability chart. From this observation, the students can make conjectures about what this means.

I believe that this will aid them in understanding what probability is. This is also interactive. This project is similar to ones that I have given in a stats class to my students, except that I had them do all of the graphs by hand, along with all the computations. Using Excel for this type of activity is certainly better because if a student has problems making the graphs or doing the computations, then this type of project isn't going to help them in understanding probability.