Stats Medic + Skew The Script = New Lessons for Inference

Updated: May 24

Written by Dashiell Young-Saver

One of my top students looked up from his paper, where he had neatly written a new set of conditions for what seemed like the 800th significance test we learned that semester. He asked me, “So, like, what does this mean?”

I started giving him an explanation of why we check conditions given the distributional assumptions of…

“No. What I mean is: What’s the point of all this state-plan-do-conclude stuff?” he asked.

I paused, then replied: “To properly make inferences from data.”

He responded, “But sir, if I was given some data – like a spreadsheet or something like that – and someone had a question about it….I don't think I'd know what to do with it. Even with this stuff, I’m writing conclusions, but I don’t really know what they mean….or,even, why they’re important. You know?”

I must have looked shell-shocked because, after he said that, the whole class stopped and stared at me. His words hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized I had taught inference all wrong.

It was my first year of teaching stats, before I made my lessons interactive and relevant. I spent that spring semester teaching inference the same way I learned it: as a set of procedures that followed from pre-packaged summary statistics about contrived contexts. I reduced the beauty of data analysis into worksheet fodder. So, of course, my students didn’t really know what they were doing or the significance (pun intended) behind it.

After that year, I vowed never to fall into the same trap. I made my lessons simulation/experience-based (EFFL) and based them in data from relevant contexts – topics my students genuinely cared about. As a result, my students’ understanding of inference changed dramatically.

For example, I taught an inference lesson on race and policing. I knew my students cared about the topic, so they would have a real stake in the data and the conclusions they drew. When I asked them about the validity of the sampling method (random condition), about concerns with doing multiple tests, about the difference between statistical significance and practical importance, and about the meaning and generalizability of their conclusions, they cared about the answers to those questions. They felt that their analysis could meaningfully contribute to their understanding of the world. This extra engagement drove them to further understand their work at a conceptual level.

When combining the greater intuition from EFFL with the extra engagement from relevant contexts, there’s no stopping what your students can do. That’s why Stats Medic and Skew The Script have teamed up once again to bring you our first batch of inference lessons (inference for proportions).

Again, I find myself indebted to Lindsey and Luke for their kindness, energy, and thoughtfulness as we built these lessons. I know I can’t wait to use them in my classroom, and I’m already looking forward to more collaborative inference lessons to come (for means, chi-square, and maybe even regression!).

Here’s the first batch. Enjoy!

LESSON: German Tank Problem

Topic: Introducing Sampling Distributions

Activity: DOCX / PDF

Answer Key: PDF


What we like about this lesson: it's not just using a mean to estimate a mean. Instead, students estimate a maximum with serial numbers. This gets them to thinking outside the box at a conceptual level.