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 Mind-Boggling Astronomy by Steven R. Wills

Teacher’s Guide

Teaching Suggestions for
Stats: Talking Numbers

Format:
Article, Page
Summary
Skills

"Statistics: Digging Into Data," pg. 6
Statistics helps scientists collect, organize, and interpret information. Statistical analysis uses small sample groups to infer something about a large population. An example of a statistical study of teen weight highlights that process.
Vocabulary, Inductive Reasoning

"Will Santa See Snow?", pg. 10
The probability of a white Christmas increases if an inch of snow lies on the ground on Dec. 18. The article explains how correlations are determined and used.
Calculating, Drawing Conclusions

"Random or Not? Find Out With a Scatterplot," pg. 12
Statistical analysis can reveal a relationship between two variables, and a scatterplot can provide a picture of it. The article explains how to organize and interpret a scatterplot, and a sidebar (pg. 14) lets readers test their skills in spotting correlations.
Inductive Reasoning, Following Directions

"Dr. Brain’s Omega Sphere" (Brain Strain), pg. 15
How can you place three darts in the same hemisphere of a spinning globe? Can statistics help?
Deductive Reasoning

"Got a New Solution for Asthma? Test It!", pg. 16
Medical trials use statistics to determine the effectiveness of potential new drugs. Student’s t-test and the chi-square test are highlighted. Sidebars distinguish hypothesis and interval testing (pg. 18) and offer a real-world example of statistics at work (pg. 19).
Problem Solving, Practical Application

"Slugging Out Sports Stats: An Interview with Steve Byrd" (People to Discover), pg. 20
The senior vice president of STATS, Inc., explains how his company collects, processes, and disseminates sports statistics. A sidebar (pg. 22) challenges readers to calculate four sports stats.
Process Analysis, Calculating

"Using Numbers to Save the World," pg. 23
In 1973, two scientists used statistical analysis to discover the harmful effects of CFCs on the Earth’s ozone layer. Their mathematical modeling (explained in a sidebar, pg. 25) warned of an impending environmental disaster.
Inductive Reasoning, Problem Solving

Cladistics is a statistically based method of determining relationships among living things. Cladograms illustrate those relationships, sometimes surprising the scientific community and overturning traditional evolutionary theories.
Vocabulary, Drawing Conclusions

"Statistics in the Courtroom," pg. 29
The importance of statistical analysis in legal matters is revealed using actual courtroom events. Statistical testing may not convict a suspect, but it can complement other forms of evidence. Statistical terminology is highlighted.
Vocabulary, Applications

"How Many in Your Bag?" (Activity), pg. 32
Do the candies in your bag of M&Ms meet manufacturer’s specifications? Use statistics to find out.
Following Directions, Data Collection and Analysis

"Belle of the Mall" (Activity), pg. 34
Fill in the blanks with statistical terms to tell this tale of a shopping trip.
Vocabulary, Context Clues

"Statistics Never Lie. . . ," pg. 37
Making Inferences, Inductive Reasoning

"You Can Do Astronomy: A Living Solar System!" (What’s Up and Planet Watch), pg. 40
The winter solstice shares the evening stage with two meteor showers and spectacular views of Jupiter, Saturn, and their largest moons. On cloudy nights, gather your friends to form a living, clapping solar system.
Observation, Following Directions

"How Fast Do You Eat Ice Cream?" (Fantastic Journeys), pg. 45
An enterprising and persistent ninth grader used statistical analysis to get her research published in a medical journal.
Hypothesis Formation, Data Analysis and Interpretation

1. Statistics show up on TV news programs and in the newspapers every day. What statistics have you seen or heard lately? List stories that you remember (don’t forget sports and politics!) and discuss how statistics were used in each instance. How do statistics help make a story clearer?
2. Are statistics ever used to lie or mislead? What examples can you think of? What statistics do you trust and which don’t you trust? Why?

"Statistics: Digging Into Data", Pg. 6

Talk It Over:
1. What are the goals of statistical analysis? What is a sample, and why are samples used? How can statistics help us understand natural processes or make decisions? Offer examples from the article and from recent news stories.
2. How can we make the best use of the many statistics that come our way? Are there rules for the best use of statistical information? Make a list of tips and warning signs and add to it as you read this issue.

Connections:
1. Visual Arts: Reread the closing section of the article "Caution!" and create a poster that warns consumers about the wise use of statistics. What should people be wary of when interpreting statistics?
2. History: Find an example of how a statistical study helped solve the mystery of a disease — its origin, treatment, prevention, or cure. Look for information about such diseases as cholera, bubonic plague, or malaria. In your research, keep an eye out for the use of numbers in other fields of health and medicine.
3. Science: Scientists always attempt to repeat, or replicate, one anothers’ research and findings. Conduct your own survey of weight among students ages 10-19. When you have gathered your data, compile graphs like those used in the article. Are your results similar? Where are the differences? Can those differences be explained, or is more research necessary?

Student Assessment:
1. In a narrative essay, describe a statistical study, beginning with a question of interest to you. (For example, who is the most popular rock star among the students in your class?) In your essay, use the following terms correctly: subject, characteristics, sample, population, descriptive statistics, and statistical inference.
2. Use the weight statistics given in the article to argue for or against allowing girls and boys to compete in the same wrestling league. Make sure your position is supported by the statistics. Present your case as a persuasive speech.

"Statistics in the Courtroom", Pg. 29

Talk It Over:
1. Statistics can help convict a lawbreaker. Can statistics ever prove someone innocent? Think of possible examples. Is it easier to use statistics (DNA, for example) to prove innocence or guilt? Why?
2. Before a jury is seated in a court case, lawyers representing both sides question potential jurors and accept or reject them based on their answers. If you were a lawyer planning to use statistical evidence in court, what questions would you ask potential jurors? Discuss and list 10 interview questions. Explain your reasons for asking each one.

Connections:
1. Psychology: If attorneys can use statistics to convince a jury, can they also misuse statistics to mislead a jury? How might the fair use of statistics in a courtroom depend on the ability of the jury to understand statistical analysis?
2. Mathematics: The article mentions the close results of the 2000 presidential election in Florida. Go on the Internet to research the popular vote counts from other states in that race. Use percents to figure the margin of error in the vote counting that could have changed a state from Bush to Gore or from Gore to Bush. In what other states do you think the votes should have been recounted?
3. Creative Writing: Write a poem celebrating (or criticizing) the use of statistics in the courtroom. In your poem, try to use "scatterplot" and "outlier" as rhymes. Trade poems among class members and read aloud.

Student Assessment:
1. Describe a hypothetical court case alleging job discrimination. Write an informational essay about the types of statistics that might be used in such a case and how they would be presented.
2. Collect reports from newspapers and newsmagazines of a court case in which DNA testing is involved. Study the case and make a closing statement to the jury, using statistics to support your call for a verdict of guilt or innocence.

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." — attributed by Mark Twain to Benjamin Disraeli, but the best-documented source is Leonard H. Courtney
Small-Group Activity:
Break the class into pairs or teams of three and organize a statistics-based science fair. Challenge each team to present a project that involves statistical analysis or the gathering of statistics. (Check the articles beginning on pages 10, 32, and 45 for ideas.) Give each team an opportunity to present their hypothesis, methods, data, statistical analysis techniques, and conclusions.

"Inspiring visions rarely include numbers." — Tom Peters in Thriving on Chaos
Community Connection:
Invite to your class the person in your school or school district who is responsible for compiling scores on standardized test. Ask your guest to explain how scores are determined, what they mean, and how they are communicated to the public. Gather examples of how those statistics are presented by the media.

"Mathematics has given economics rigor, but alas, also mortis." — Robert Heilbroner
Whole-Class Project:
Create a bulletin board display titled "Statistics in the News." Post clippings or photocopies of advertisements, articles, graphs, or diagrams. Accompany each with a brief, written explanation of the statistics involved. Devote one section of the display to misused or misleading statistics.

"Smoking is one of the leading causes of statistics." — Fletcher Knebel
Large-Group Collaborative Activity:
Select a controversial assertion for which proponents and opponents can present statistical arguments. Form two teams to debate the topic. Present your debate before a panel of judges who evaluate the persuasiveness not of the debaters, but of the statistics they use.

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