Am I the only one who doesn't get Statistics?

Discussion in 'Off-Topic Discussions' started by cdhale, Nov 20, 2005.

  1. cdhale

    cdhale Member

    I just finished my second term at University of West Alabama, taking three courses.
    First was a Faulkner course (English is my area of concentration). The other two were the educational requirements. One was Lifespan Development, a Psychology course. The second was Educational Statistics.

    I made an "A" in both Faulkner and Lifespan Dev. I made a "B" in Statistics.

    However, I have no idea what in the world the Stats class was even about, for the most part. Once we got past averages and the simple stuff, I got totally lost in the t-tests, two tailed tests and stuff like that. I felt like an idiot.

    By following directions and flow charts I made it through, though I think my "B" was pretty close to being a "C."

    I just wondered if I was alone in being Statistically incompetent.

  2. PatsFan

    PatsFan New Member

    You're not alone in your statistics angst. Over the years I have met many people in human services fields who have been "traumatized" by their statistics courses. Fortunately I had a positive experience in my stats class, because the professor was very sensitive to our feelings about the course. I was happy to get that B. That had been my second time taking a stats class. The first time I tried to take it in a 4 week summer class at a nearby state college. I lasted about 2 days before I became totally overwhelmed, dropping the class. You were courageous to take a DL Stats class. I shudder to think about that.
  3. me again

    me again Well-Known Member

    CAUTION: Statistics Ahead

    Statistics? < shudder > :eek:

    I got a B, but I think it should have been closer to a D. Thank goodness for class curves. :eek:
  4. carlosb

    carlosb New Member

    You are not alone. There is quite a discussion on statistics at the Northcentral University site. The required PhD in Business course MGT 5028--Applied Statistics is a popular subject for discussion. Many students seem to be apprehensive about taking it.

    Wasn't one of my favorite ungrad classes by a long shot. Like me again I received a "B" thanks to a curve that would make a major league baseball pitcher proud.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 20, 2005
  5. 3$bill

    3$bill New Member

    You are not alone

    I think that your response to your statistics class is quite common.

    Compared to College Algebra, for example, the math calculations are not difficult. On the other hand, algebra concentrates on solving equations, while a meaningful statistics course focuses on the interpretations of results. These are often not straightforward or intuitive (once you get past averages).

    For example, if the variable of interest is "number of children per family," then the population variance is expressed in terms of square children. Huh?

    Consequently, some instructors, in search of a quiet life, set up the course so that the grade depends mainly on solving equations. Thus it's possible for a diligent student to muddle through with a decent grade and little conception of what it's all about.

    The introductory statistics course has a conceptual continuity through its three parts: data description, probability, and statistical inference. However this continuity is not obvious if the text or instructor does not bring it out, as the tasks involved are on the surface quite different.

    (For example, I've sat in on a couple of courses and looked at several textbooks in which the relation between the nCr combination formula and the Binomial Distribution hasn't even been mentioned.)

    Furthermore, the terms and notation for statistics can be confusing, even relative to other math courses. Capital sigma means "sum," lower-case sigma means "standard deviation." The letter p usually has something to do with probability, but it is used in (at least) three different ways. The letter E can mean either error or expectation. And so on.

    Finally, it is a fact of life that some of the most important rules in statistics cannot be derived in an introductory course. They can be "explained" as reasonable assumptions, but there is so much to cover in the course that instructors are tempted to have students take them on faith.

    So a class may consist, for the student, largely of spells, charms, and magic words without any discernible effect.

    In sum, you have a course in which interpretation is crucial, but the impediments to interpretation are major. Yet at the same time it's possible to plug the data into formulas without understanding either the problem or the solution. So your response seems to me quite a natural one.

    It would be a shame to suffer so much without any benefit. One book that I have heard very good things about is the Cartoon Guide to Statistics, by Gonnick and Smith. Since you'll have a nodding acquaintance with much of the content, it might be able to provide the understanding behind the formulas that is the actual goal of the course.
  6. airtorn

    airtorn Moderator Staff Member

    Do you think this was in part due to the instructor? My wife just finished up the stats class at UWA as well and was generally unimpressed with this particular instructor (female, name unknown). Reasons that she cited were extremely vague and slow responses to e-mail. Your thoughts?
  7. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    Don't despair. Believe it or not, some of it sunk in.

    I strongly believe the understanding of statistics is, for many, an iterative process.

    As an undergraduate, I understood descriptive statistics, but that was about it.

    As a graduate student, I sort of understoon inferential statistics, but not really.

    As a doctoral student, I had to apply both, so I really came to understand them. But there are still statistical methods I don't really know very well.

    I went from a passing knowledge, to some understanding, to in-depth knowledge. And how do I know? I've taught statistics multiple times at both the undergraduate and graduate level. So, again, don't despair. It will come to you over time, if you're immersed in it a few more times. If not, congratulations, you've escaped!
  8. me again

    me again Well-Known Member

    Re: You are not alone

    Very well put!!! :eek:

    In graduate school, my stat professor said he never really learned statistics until he taught it.
  9. blahetka

    blahetka New Member

    Hmmmmm, spells, charms, and incantations...... I shall include that in my next syllabus.

    I teach biz stats at UoPhx. One of my first course slides discusses how to get an A in the course. Every other bullet point is RELAX.

    I find some people get their innards worked up just thinking about stats. Either they had a bad experience or know someone that had a very bad experience and contaminated them.

    When I teach it, I try to use concrete examples and include parts of "Why is this important to learn, or "How do people use this in the real world." The latter seems to work well when I discuss investment stuff (with proper disclosures, of course).

    There have also been a couple good "Puzzlers" on the Click and Clack show on NPR which lightens the mood a s well.

    When I started the class I am current teaching, I started with "OH NO!!! STATS!!!" and mocked the painting "The Scream." It also helped lighten the mood.
  10. Bill Hurd

    Bill Hurd New Member


    I think stats must be a learning process -- it never ends.

    I received a B in undergrad program, an A- in MBA program, and an A in PhD program.

    However, I really began to understand some of the concepts when I started teaching it. After I teach a few more classes I may get to the point where I feel comfortable with statistics.

    I feel 95% confident of this. I mean it (pun intended).

    Bill H
  11. Guest

    Guest Guest

    While working on my master's at CCHS, I had two courses that had several chapters each covering stats.

    I barely received a "B" in these and my final GPA was a 3.4. Had I done better in these two courses, my GPA would have been at least a 3.6.

    While working in agency counseling, we had a number of MFT interns and they all complained about their stats grades.

    Math has never been my strong point.
  12. Rob Coates

    Rob Coates New Member

    Even though I have never been a wiz with math, I somehow "clicked" with statistics and actually enjoyed it both at the undergrad and graduate level. I think early on I became amazed at the power to describe, predict, and understand all forms of data that statistics made possible.
  13. Tim D

    Tim D Member

    I have alway hated math(and this includes stats,although I love reading and analyzing them)..Then again, I also never have been known for my good language skills. So I guess I am screwed all around!
  14. Guest

    Guest Guest

    What a delightful post of self-deprecating humor and wonderful levity! Thanks for the break from the routine and mundane!
  15. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    A common misconception is that statistics is about math. It isn't. There is less math in a stats class than there is in an elementary algebra class. Even people who've taken statistics make this mistake, which may help explain their struggles.

    Statistics is about probabilities. The toughest things to understand in statistics are the inferences made about populations using sampling. Accounting for distribution, sampling error, etc., is what boggles people--they find it difficult to relate to their everyday lives. When some statistic comes out to -2.08Z, they have trouble relating to the fact that this indicates the result from the sample is so much lower than the hypothesized population that they must conclude that the hypothesis is wrong. (Even explanations like that are dense!)

    Very few of my students need any refresher regarding math (or, perhaps more properly, arithmetic). Teaching factorials is about it.
  16. uncle janko

    uncle janko member

  17. Jack Tracey

    Jack Tracey New Member

    My own experience is that the best way to really learn statisitcs is to "want to know" something. I want to know what the rate of "no-shows" is for my department. Then I want to know how that varies throygh time and whether that variance is predictable or not. I want to know if a specific individual clinician has more or less no-shows than the average and I want to know if any of the measures taken to solve such problems are working.

    This is a simple example from my own worklife and one that most high schoolers could solve. My point is that if you are learning statistics without knowing why you are learning statistics then you will not learn them well at all. If you can begin to understand what these numbers mean and how you might ACTUALLY use them, THEN you might find it easier to lean statistics.

    Obviously I'm referring to myself. I could not learn math until I discovered a reason for learning math. I'll never be a mathematician but I aced a year of calculus and then differential equations after being the kid who went to Summer School to re-take Algebra/Trig.
  18. 3$bill

    3$bill New Member

    Most of my students are taking stats under duress. This semester our math department asked us instructors to poll students about their reasons for taking their course. In my business stats course two said they took it to meet their math requirement, 33 to meet the business major prerequisite, none out of personal interest.

    Like Russ, I use examples from the business world whenever I can, but it ain't the same as taking the class because you have problems you want to solve. The frustrating thing for me is when a visitor or a graduate tells me--outside of class--"You know, what you were talking about today is exactly the kind of statistical quality control we practice in our company," or the like.

    There's a scene in The Big Sleep where Philip Marlowe confronts Eddy Mars at his casino, and afterwards, Eddy says, "Why don't you stick around for a while? Be my guest, go out through this door, behind the tables." "No thanks," says Marlowe, "I'll take my chances out front with the rest of the suckers."

    Part of the lure of probability and statistics for me is being behind the tables; I'd rather be a carny than a rube. Some of my students have the same general desire to know how the game is run, but you'd think that in times where certainty is so rare, probability would have more appeal than it seems to.
  19. davidhume

    davidhume New Member

    I think Rich summed it all up well; when you have to study Stats to get a grade, then you tend to do enough to get through. But when you are doing your doctorate, then you have to understand what you are doing or your thesis is shot!

    That was my experience; a nightmare at undergraduate level;'necessity been the mother of invention' at doctoral level!
  20. Mike_UCD

    Mike_UCD New Member


    Phew - Had to reply. I'm one of those who was traumatized by the class. I survived though and surprisingly, a lot of the concepts have sunk in and I'm amazed how applicable it is in business and science.

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