Event report: Inspiring young people with statistics

Written by Scott Keir on . Posted in Features

The RSS promotes a wide range of activities that inspire young people about statistics and data, and on Tuesday 24 July 2018, at the University of Liverpool in London, around 30 people attended an afternoon workshop arranged by the RSS Education and Statistical Literacy Committee to find out more about some of these activities, and how to get involved.

Improving statistical education and wider statistical literacy is a core goal of the RSS, as Scott Keir, head of education and statistical literacy, emphasised in his introduction. RSS activities include education policy work, offering free e-teacher membership, and encouraging our members to engage with school students and teachers. Schemes that members are encouraged to get involved with include the RSS own William Guy Lectureship and programmes from other organisations including STEM Ambassadors, Inspiring the Future, RI Masterclasses, Nuffield Research Placements, and I’m a Scientist.

To help RSS members to participate in a range of activities, the RSS Education and Statistical Literacy Committee has several project groups to create resources and support members.

Committee member Tom King described the work he is leading on school governance. This project group was set up following a lively discussion at the RSS Conference in 2015. The school governance group are planning to run a workshop on ‘evaluating progress in primary’ and have been meeting with Ofsted and the National Governance Association to discuss ways to support governors’ understanding of statistics. Tom talked about his own experience as a school governor, and the value to schools, and their students and teachers, of having governors with an understanding of statistics and data. Being a governor is a rewarding way to contribute your statistical skills to the local community, Tom has found, and he encouraged everyone to consider becoming a school governor.

Laura Bonnett led a workshop on the Hands-on Stats activities, which she has been developing with her fellow committee member Simon White. These activities demonstrate statistical techniques and help to start conversations about statistics and data with people young and old at careers fairs, festivals and other drop-in events. Each activity includes suggestions for extensions suitable for school workshops, and all have been tested and developed by Laura and Simon at a variety of events.

Four Hands-on stats activities were developed and launched at the RSS Conference 2017 and four were launched at the recent 2018 conference. Each activity is described on the RSS website with an instruction sheet and a video demonstration, and the website includes PDFs of any additional printed materials required. Simon and Laura are currently investigating four more ideas for a third wave in 2019 and welcomed input in the second afternoon session.

The Royal Institution Masterclass programme opens young people’s eyes to the diversity of mathematics, engineering and computer science. The classes run across the UK, usually on Saturday mornings, to keen and talented young people who have been nominated by their teachers to attend. Masterclasses are organised and delivered by volunteers, with support from the Royal Institution.

RSS fellow Sophie Carr of Bays Consulting has delivered several Maths Masterclasses, drawing on her own research work. Sophie developed and delivered masterclasses on Bayesian probability, based on research she is undertaking at the moment on identifying the geographic origin of shellfish using statistical analysis of chemical elements. Sophie starts with an activity created by David Spiegelhalter and Jenny Gage, taken from their Teaching Probability book. Sophie recommends activities that are cheap to implement (eg spinners from paperclips), and will work with students sitting on long university lecture benches. She provided print-outs of extracts of data to the students, based on the data that she is using in her analyses, and encouraged them to think about which elements they would find useful in an analysis, think about missing or incomplete data, and whether it could be possible to spot patterns or associations. This motivated an introduction to Bayesian probability, used to predict the likelihood that a sample of shellfish was linked to a particular geographic area.

Sophie advised that in a 2.5 hour session, you should aim to speak for around 30-40 minutes in total, with the remainder of the time spent by students working on and discussing problems, supported by the RI Masterclass volunteers.

Dominique Sleet, London Secondary Mathematics Masterclasses Coordinator and Samantha Durbin, the Royal Institution Clothworkers’ Associate in Mathematics provided an outline of the RI Masterclasses programme. They described the volunteer roles available, including masterclass speakers and helpers, shared some examples of activities from other Masterclass speakers, and highlighted the speaker training programme.

Feedback from the event was positive, on the day, on Twitter at the hashtag #InspiringStats, and in the post-event evaluation, where all eight respondents said that they would recommend a similar event to a colleague.



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