BGSU project puts odds in math teachers’ favor

BOWLING GREEN, O.—“Life is uncertain,” says Dr. James Albert, a professor of mathematics and statistics at Bowling Green State University, but having a grasp of the laws of probability can help people make better decisions, as can the ability to understand data.

With the help of a two-year, $192,710 award from the Ohio Department of Education and support from BGSU, Albert and colleagues Dr. Barbara Moses, the Bailey Family Endowed Professor of Mathematics, and instructor Diane Mott are working with area teachers to better prepare them to teach these skills to their students. Participants also gain three hours of graduate credit at no cost.

“Ohio standards require that we teach probability topics in grades K-12, but the schools are having a hard time working that into the curriculum,” Albert said. “We want to give them curriculum and activities that address real-life situations the kids are dealing with. At the end of the course, we want the teachers to make lesson plans to show what they’ve learned.”

Much of the course content is based on a textbook Albert wrote, “Data Analysis and Probability for Teachers,” that will be published by Wiley.

Fifty teachers of grades 7-12 are participating in the grant project, "Developing Reasoning about Data and Chance." They began in July 2007 with an online class on data analysis, with special emphasis on graphing and relationships. They will be taking a second online course in summer 2009 on concepts of probability. The group also meets in person occasionally to work on specific skills. At the next meetings, in November, the teachers will give presentations on the lesson plans they have written. The spring meetings will focus on developing graphing calculator skills.

“In each year, the course is directed toward understanding and addressing students' misconceptions on learning these topics,” Albert said.

“Probability is not a natural skill,” he observed. “It’s not hard to make mistakes. People have certain beliefs about chance that aren’t true. Also, many people have difficulties adjusting their probabilities in the presence of new information.”

He cited the example of gamblers feeling that when they’re on a “hot streak,” they’re either bound to cool off or, conversely, should keep going, when in reality the odds revert to the baseline only in the long run.

Dana Edmonds, math department chair for grades 7-12 in the Washington Local Schools, said her interest in taking the course was particularly piqued by the probability aspect. “I think there’s a lot more we could be doing with probability and that kids would want to take that as an elective. I’d like to offer a class in it at some point.”

“We want to better equip teachers and give them the tools to teach these concepts,” Albert said.


(Posted October 27, 2008 )