On the scientific method

Grant R. Cramer cramer at med.unr.edu
Sat Mar 24 18:24:27 EST 2001

I agree that statistical analysis might be difficult, however there is no
reason that they can't be exposed to the concept. That they understand there
is variation and must replicate their experiments. They could start with
comparing a mean with at least three replicates. My daughter did this on her
scientific project in 4th grade (just about the only project that in her
entire elementary school that even had replicates). Sure it was I that was
suggested it. She has got to learn it somewhere and it might as well be me.
Next year we will do a similar analysis. At some point I will ask her "How
do you know the two means are really different from each other?" and at that
point I will gradually introduce the subject of statistics. Will she
completely understand it? I doubt it, but it will be less foreign the next
time she is exposed to it, and eventually she will get it. At what age? We
will have to see. But I think by the time high school comes around she will
get it. I think if we introduce this early our kids would be able to
critically think and evaluate things much earlier (perhaps by the time they
come to college?).

Grant R. Cramer
Associate Professor
Mail Stop 200
Department of Biochemistry
University of Nevada
Reno, NV 89557
phone: (775) 784-4204
fax: (775) 784-1650
email: cramer at unr.edu
web page: http://gcramer-mac.ag.unr.edu/index.html

on 3/24/01 10:09 AM, "Janice M. Glime" at jmglime at mtu.edu wrote:

> I have to disagree at the dismay expressed by lack of statistical
> analysis used by high school students.  At that stage, they do not even
> know what statistical analysis is.  Most of their teachers likewise have
> not come through a research oriented program in which they were required
> to analyze anything statistically or to take a statistics course.  Most of
> us do not require our college freshmen to do statistical analysis of data.
> Yes, there is statistical software where the students could do this
> easily, but what would be gained by their blind use without understanding
> the assumptions?  Wouldn't we be encouraging even more bad habits instead
> of simply accepting the fact that they have not yet reached that
> developmental stage?
> I do, however, agree that the importance of replication should be
> stressed.  In junior high I won a science fair in which I had one plant
> with a broken top and one with its normal apex.  In my poster I explained
> the role of IAA in inhibiting lateral growth.  My experiment was
> serendipitous - I was going to test fertilizers, but my plant broke on the
> way home from purchasing it and I at least knew it would no longer be a
> suitable control.  I often use this example to my students, commenting on
> my naivity at that stage.
> To me, the science fair project is the student's opportunity to develop
> scientific creativity, to ask a question and design an experiment.  As
> long as students understand there are more sophisticated ways to analyze
> the results, shouldn't we do this one step at a time so we don't overwelm
> them before they have learned the basics of design?  Or should we ask our
> high school teachers to teach the students statistical analysis as part of
> every science course?
> If I were to see statistical analysis on a poster with a high school
> student's project, I would suspect there had been too much parental input
> and that the project was not truly the student's.
> Janice
> ***********************************
> Janice M. Glime, Professor
> Department of Biological Sciences
> Michigan Technological University
> Houghton, MI 49931-1295
> jmglime at mtu.edu
> 906-487-2546
> FAX 906-487-3167 
> ***********************************
> ---


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