Real-World Applications of Statistics

students using computersOne of my favorite things about being a math teacher is having the opportunity to show students how math can be used in the “real world”. Students often ask when they use a new concept. I love showing students how real and applicable the math they are learning in a classroom can be to their lives outside of the school day.

In AP Statistics this year, students have seen a survey of introductory topics in the subject, from how to collect a good data sample to analyzing a provided graph to creating probability models for estimation to selecting and running inference procedures. Every data set we use in the classroom is recent and based on real surveys or information.

In past years, we’ve used the lens of statistics to examine a variety of real-life situations that fall on a spectrum from trivial to significant. When we studied the concept of independence of two variables, the class examined a data set to see if smoking habits were independent of education levels. To learn how non-similar values are compared using standardization, we looked at a model for awarding medals in a decathlon. We’ve used census data to track populations in major cities, developing non-linear models to predict future populations. Students designed sample surveys with and without bias to see how wording and sample selection can influence results. Probability models and expected profits allowed us to contemplate how insurance premiums get set, and a large data set on incarceration rates allowed us to wonder about the relationship between race and conviction rates for major crimes. In a few days, we’ll test whether a popular candy company’s advertised color breakdown of their product matches each bag’s distribution (then eat some of the data set!).

As we gear up to prepare for the AP Exam in a few weeks, the students will work on a final project that ties together all of the concepts we have studied this year. They’ll get to see exactly how statistics can be used to make sense of the world around them. It’s fascinating to see what topics students pick, as they tend to select something they’re passionate and curious about. Last year, students researched questions like:

  • Do movies with larger budgets make more profits at the box office?
  • Is there a difference in short-term memory recall for 9th and 12th grade students?
  • Does the amount of time in advance an airline ticket is purchased have an effect on its cost?
  • Can teenagers identify the difference between coffee brands in a blind taste test?
  • Does supplying additional information about modern art change people’s perception of its value?

As students prepare to finish the school year in a few short weeks, I know they’re leaving my classroom with a new “tool” for viewing the world. I hope to have played a part in developing a class of students who will view the world differently, critically question statistics that are provided without context, and dive deeper into using statistics to answer some of life’s big questions.

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About Alden Derr

Alden Derr is the Mathematics Department Chair at Dana Hall School and the Head Coach for JV and Varsity Swimming. She joined the school in 2014.

3 Replies to “Real-World Applications of Statistics”

  1. What an inspiring post, Alden! Thank you for helping our students think critically and view the world differently through statistical analysis.

  2. Alden,
    How exciting to see the students develop these new “tools” with which to examine and analyze the world around them!

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