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UW Statistics Department Engages with Laramie Middle School Students

May 21, 2019
man and woman with miscellaneous items
UW’s Scott Crawford and Madison Yager show some of the materials they used in a recent presentation to Laramie Middle School students. (Caleb Rothwell Photo)

The University of Wyoming’s Scott Crawford and Madison Yager recently stopped by Laramie Middle School (LMS) to show students the science behind statistics.

Crawford, an associate academic professional lecturer in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, and Yager, a graduating senior from Cheyenne majoring in statistics, gave two-hour presentations to sixth-graders in the LMS library to students of teachers Pam Frazier, Lana Mecca and Jeff O’Brien on what data science is. The classes had recently finished learning a section on statistics.

“Most middle school students have the impression that statistics is about plotting data and calculating probabilities,” Crawford says. “We came in and talked about data science being used to make decisions, help cut through misinformation and the variety of applications. If they have any inclinations to be a scientist, they will want to have statistical tools in their toolkit.”

Crawford and Yager accomplished this with numerous active-learning exercises with each group, including fortune-telling, spin the wheel, paper airplanes, variable riddles and slider puzzles. Each was done while discussing principles such as variance, bias, sample size considerations and inference. Yager also presented her research on manifold learning, as told by Carl the ant.

“The students not only got to see how data science is used in real life, but also to test out a hypothesis on the globe, estimate the number of chips in Chips Ahoy cookies and analyze the difference in paper airplane designs,” Crawford says. “That ability to ask a question and gather data to answer it is the heart of science and learning.”

Crawford says he and Yager are in talks with other Laramie and Cheyenne schools to present there as well.

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