I am going to teach this probability and statistics course in a couple of weeks. The probability part can be made very interesting, in my opinion, easily. But I am a little worried that I might make the statistics part a boring collection of information and algorithmic manipulations. So my question is, how do I make the statistics part of the course interesting?

The syllabus for the stat part is roughly the contents of this book.

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    $\begingroup$ That's a lot of topics to cover! There may not be room, but a project where the students apply the statistics to data of interest to them, can generate considerable enthusiasm. $\endgroup$ Apr 19, 2021 at 17:44
  • $\begingroup$ Who are the intended students? High school students? Undergraduates? $\endgroup$
    – JRN
    Apr 20, 2021 at 2:00
  • $\begingroup$ First year undergraduates. $\endgroup$
    – mukhujje
    Apr 20, 2021 at 4:10
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    $\begingroup$ I don’t know who your clientele is, but my students, half of which are business-degree candidates, seem more excited by the statistics part of the course than the probability. It could have to do with the quasi-real scenarios for the problems and emphasis on practical applications. And the use of computation to avoid drudgery. $\endgroup$
    – user1815
    Apr 20, 2021 at 16:51
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    $\begingroup$ I've always liked How to Lie With Statistics. It was originally published in 1954 but was reissued in 1993. $\endgroup$ Apr 21, 2021 at 3:42

2 Answers 2


Expanding a bit on my comment, there is (1) a new textbook available for project-based intro stats, (2) an online syllabus describing a course based on community projects, and (3) an academic paper concluding that "the project-based course ... provides a promising model for getting students hooked on the power and excitement of applied statistics."

  • (1) Chelsea Myers. Project-Based R Companion to Introductory Statistics. Routledge link.

  • (2) Cindy Kaus, Introductory Statistics with Community-Based Projects. Metropolitan link.

  • (3) Dierker, Lisa, Jane Robertson Evia, Karen Singer-Freeman, Kristin Woods, Janet Zupkus, Alan Arnholt, Elizabeth G. Moliski, Natalie Delia Deckard, Kristel Gallagher, and Jennifer Rose. "Project-based learning in introductory statistics: Comparing course experiences and predicting positive outcomes for students from diverse educational settings." International Journal of Educational Technology and Learning 3, no. 2 (2018): 52-64. Journal link.


That's pretty normal to have a lot of ground to cover. Even with the more friendly books, it still ends up being a lot of concepts and formulas. Given this, I think you sort of have to make your peace with the idea that kids will not master everything, especially in the long term. I probably wouldn't try some fundamental change to improve things since it may make things worse (like adding a big project or the like). Just engage with the kids, be animated and sort of cheerlead through the thing. Maybe tell a sea story or two.

Whereas I have an iconic recall of the quadratic formula, I don't think I've ever used a chi test in a class or business/engineering situation. And I don't remember the formula. Or what is different about it versus a t test. But at least I sorta "heard of it".

In terms of basic lasting concepts, I think they should have lasting knowledge that normal distribution is a "bell curve" and is a decent guess when you have no clue. Along with the very basic concepts of confidence intervals (not every tricky caveat or logic issue but just the idea of 90% CI).

After that, just the info that there are a lot of concepts, formulas, and things can be tricky. So if someone quotes a statistic know that it may have issues. And if you are working on something statistical, bring in a professional/watch out for errors. [But again, I know "rigor people" hate this, but I think you have to set the bar lower at "exposure" rather than "mastery". Pound smart, not penny foolish.]

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    $\begingroup$ I rarely think "exposure" is useful to anyone. If there are too many topics to actually understand or retain anything, remove topics until you have a course which can be comprehended. $\endgroup$ Apr 20, 2021 at 17:50
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    $\begingroup$ You've pretty much described the "Fundamentals of Statistics & Probability" course that I underwent as a freshman. I detest and despise the procedural-over-conceptual philosophy underpinning the design and delivery of most Statistics courses, which are such missed opportunities to actually inculcate statistical literacy. $\endgroup$
    – ryang
    Apr 20, 2021 at 18:07
  • $\begingroup$ Not sure how a mile wide and an inch deep is pound smart. $\endgroup$
    – Rusty Core
    Apr 24, 2021 at 15:58

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