A chance to strengthen the statistical enquiry cycle?
In August the 2010 Wellington Science and Technology Fair was held at Victoria University. The New Zealand Statistical Association and Statistics New Zealand jointly
awarded special prizes to the exhibits showing the best application of statistical methods. A small group of employees from Statistics New Zealand attended the fair
and from over 400 exhibits they selected 16 to which they awarded prizes and certificates of merit. These deserving exhibits varied from designing and conducting a
survey of bird life in Wellington gardens, to designing a food labelling system that could help children to better assess the healthiness of a food product.
The enthusiasm of the students and willingness to talk about and explain their exhibits was impressive – even to the point of one student (after realising we were
interested in data visualisations) pointing out an error he had made in his graph!
The majority of exhibits on display came from year 7 and 8 students. Overall the statistical analysis on display was at quite a basic level, consisting mainly of
displays of time series or means. When we asked students to explain their graphs to us, they were able to communicate good ideas about trends in time series. Many
experiments contained a trial replicated several times. Although a measurement would be taken for each replication, the students tended to plot the mean of these
measurements and draw their conclusions from this. When talking to students about these types of experiments they did not tend to notice variability in their results,
consider measures of spread, or how the distribution of results might differ between trials.
We were hoping to see more commentary about what the graphs were showing, have students notice variability in their results or changes in the trend over time, or
even show us visual examples of a distribution changing after an intervention!
We’d like to do some very informal inference: we infer that the analyses at the other 20 or so regional science fairs were similar to the analyses we saw.
The new NZ Curriculum (2007), in its Mathematics and Statistics learning area, asks Level 4 students (about years 7 and 8) to do this:
* Plan and conduct investigations using the statistical enquiry cycle;
* Determine appropriate variables and data collection methods;
* Gather, sort and display multivariate category, measurement, and time-series data to detect patterns, variations, relationships, and trends;
* Compare distributions visually;
* Communicate findings, using appropriate displays.
These objectives allow students to examine distributions and their variation, and to use data visualisations for it.
At present, we seem to have a gap between what often happens in science investigations, and what could happen in statistics investigations. The statistical enquiry cycle unpacks as the
Problem/Plan/Data/Analysis/Conclusion cycle. The exhibits we saw did (many) magnificent Problem/Plan/Data stages, limited Analysis stages, and therefore limited Conclusion stages.
We have a great opportunity to close this gap and support the use of more statistical skills in science. Both learning areas will benefit, and student satisfaction will increase.
How do we do this? Readers could exercise their minds on this question!
The views above belong to the authors.
Emma Hooper, Mike Camden
We’d like to update you on developments with respect to the New Zealand Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (the NZIMA), since the outcome of the 2006/07
Centres of Research Excellence (CoRE) selection round.
First, as you’ll know, we have had a full suite of programmes in action, and have been supporting a large number of postgraduate research students across the country,
as well as the annual summer meeting and some high-profile visitors. Also we have been pleased to be able to build up our “MathsReach” resource (see www.mathsreach.org)
and publish our twice-yearly bulletin NZ-IMAges, each showcasing a wide variety of people involved in mathematical and statistical activities in New Zealand.
On the other hand, our status and funding as a CoRE is scheduled to run out in June 2011, and we have been actively considering the future of the NZIMA.
The CoRE selection decision regarding the NZIMA in 2007 was based on a number of perceived flaws, mostly concerned with governance, strategy and added value (benefits over and above what could be
achieved by an increase in funding to existing activities).
There was absolutely no question about research excellence. In fact a recent analysis by the Ministry of Education shows that the NZIMA produced 21% of the reported publications by CoREs
in A* or A-rated journals over the three years 2004/06/08 (on a budget of about 5% of the total CoRE budget), and that 70% of the NZIMA’s reported publications over those three years
were in A* or A-rated journals (compared with 51% for other CoREs). The CoRE selection process, however, put a lot more emphasis than expected on wider benefits to New Zealand, over and above
pure research excellence.
With these things in mind, last year we assembled a new Governing Board, to provide us with a refreshed vision and strategy, with good contacts and influence beyond the mathematical sciences,
and to help expand the focus of the NZIMA towards benefits and outcomes as part of a broader recognition of research excellence.
The current membership of the new board is as follows:
Len Cook CBE CRSNZ (former head of Statistics NZ), chair
Marti Anderson (Professor of Statistics, Massey University)
Grant Guilford (Dean of Science, University of Auckland)
Peter Hunter (Director, Auckland Bioengineering Institute)
Peter Jackson (former PVC (Engineering), University of Canterbury)
Alan Lee (Deputy Dean of Science, University of Auckland)
Neil Quigley (DVC(Research), Victoria University of Wellington)
Jeanette Saunders (HoD Mathematics, St Cuthberts School, Auckland)
We will be appointing one or two more non-university people, including at least one from New Zealand business/industry. Board members are being appointed for two year terms.
Our new Board has met twice so far this year, and we are pleased to report that it is highly committed to the continued advancement of the NZIMA and its valuable activities,
and to achieving success in the next CoRE selection round (which is expected to take place in 2012/13).
One of the main tasks ahead is to make a much better case demonstrating how much, and increasingly, the mathematical and computational sciences contribute to higher levels of GDP,
through innovation in methodologies, systems and practices in all fields of science, commerce and public life.
Another will be to analyse and set priorities for the great variety of activities undertaken by the NZIMA, in a way that gives more explicit recognition to its short-term, long-term and indirect contributions.
A third one will be to seek opportunities for bridging finance to help sustain the NZIMA through to the next CoRE round, through a small number of partnerships in tightly-focussed areas of
application and from sources within the university sector.
We wish to develop a new framework for the NZIMA, that will better enable planning, organisation and communication of the NZIMA’s activities, and increase the chances of success in the next CoRE round.
The new Board is very confident of our ability to do this. In fact members of the Board believe there is an emerging consensus about the need for an entity like the NZIMA in New Zealand, but we will need
your help to build up the arguments to reinforce it.
Over the period July to September this year we are engaging with the mathematical sciences community in New Zealand, to discuss these plans and hear ideas about how some of the above aims can be achieved.
As at the end of July, Marston Conder and James Sneyd have visited each of the university centres in Albany, Dunedin and Christchurch, and are expecting to visit Hamilton, Palmerston North, and Wellington,
as well as holding meetings in Auckland, to discuss these issues with you.
We look forward to this interaction and will appreciate any positive contributions you can make. We are particularly keen to hear ideas for the future vision, activities and structure of the NZIMA,
as well as gather strong evidence for its continuation, based on the benefits it has brought and will bring to New Zealand.
Len Cook (NZIMA Board chair)
Vaughan Jones (NZIMA Co-director)
Marston Conder (NZIMA Co-director)