# Write-Skewed: Writing in an Introductory Statistics Course

## Article excerpt

The course covers basic topics in statistics, ranging from descriptive statistics to inferential statistics. Ultimately, it aims at enhancing students' skills and decision-making abilities, based on their understanding and interpretation of statistical information. One hour each week is spent in the laboratory, where students use the SPSS software package to analyze data sets and write reports interpreting the computer outputs. The laboratory assignments range from simple graphical displays, measures of center and variation to normal distribution, sampling distribution, confidence interval and hypothesis testing. Students use SPSS to perform data analysis and generate graphical displays. They are required to describe the distribution of data sets and describe similarities and differences between data sets. The SPSS laboratory provides students with ample opportunity to see graphical representations of data as well as occasions to demonstrate their analytical writing skills. Students are required to submit a weekly report and a final project; however, in most cases these reports have been mediocre at best. Students have rarely been able express their mathematical ideas clearly and coherently, and there is little evidence to date that they can analyze and interpret the results in context.

Assessment in the course consists of three exams (15% each), laboratory reports (15%), a final/term project (10%), and a final exam (35%). In the final project, students must collect data about a topic of their choice. They must describe in their own words the data they have chosen for their project, and why they have selected it. They must also state the goals they hope to achieve in carrying out their project and include a discussion of any formulas they used in the computation section that follows. Students are expected to define the variables used in the formulas and compute the descriptive statistics for the data (mean, mode, median, standard deviation, minimum, maximum, quartiles), and prepare a histogram and box plot. They are required to construct the confidence interval at a 95% confidence level. Finally, students are asked to write a cogent conclusion. As with the laboratory reports, the final project results ranged from modest to mediocre. While most students can carry out the computations, they usually cannot interpret the experimental results in a meaningful way. The final reports are usually incoherent and clearly show a lack of critical/statistical thinking skills. Often students provide no explanation at all regarding the statistics used in the computation. The project reports point to students' general inability to synthesize and draw conclusions. Perhaps some of this is due to the fact that there has been no scaffolding of the project; it has been viewed as just another in a series of assignments.

Over the past years, many reform movements in mathematics have been developed and implemented at both the high school and college level. One such initiative that has become predominant at the college level is Writing in the Disciplines (WID). Its purpose is to use writing in order to deepen students' understanding of subject matter and to transform them into more active learners by sharpening their critical thinking skills (Radke-Sharpe 1991). More recently, Rothstein & Rothstein (2007, p.22) have stated that the "... benefits of combining mathematics with writing include promoting the ability to analyze, compare facts, and synthesize information." Writing in mathematics especially requires deep understanding of the subject matter and also strengthens students' conceptual understanding. Having students explain their reasoning engages them in the learning process. A number of math educators such as Sutton and Kruger (2002) and Miller (1991) believe that the infusion of writing in mathematics classrooms increases students' interest in the subject and improves their achievement level.

Moreover, writing provides the instructor with insight into students' misconceptions and comprehension deficits and allows the instructor to focus on specific areas where students may encounter difficulties (Rothstein and Rothstein, 2007; Drake and Amspaugh, 1994). …

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