MathStatBites in the Classroom

MathStatBites in the Classroom

This MathStatBites post is a bit meta; this time around we are considering how you might use posts on this site in your teaching. MathStatBites posts are great for those who want to get a sense of what is happening in the latest mathematics and statistics research but who may not have a detailed background on the particular topic at hand. Beyond reading for fun or self study, they can also be a great resource for teachers looking to introduce their students to research and communication strategies for reaching broader audiences. In this post I focus on undergraduate students and outline a few ways that I have used MathStatBites content in my own statistics courses as jumping off points for other teachers looking to do the same. We hope that these spark ideas for adaptations in both high school and graduate-level classrooms as well.

Connect Articles to Class Content

Many of the topics covered on the site have elements that can connect to traditional coursework. For example, this post on model selection approaches in ecology paired nicely with my Stat 2 course that covers multiple regression. I assigned the blog post as part of a homework assignment with the following prompt:

After reading the blog post, write a paragraph explaining how the reading connects to the content we are learning in this class. You may consider the following prompts to get you started.

  • How does the analyst described in the reading approach building a model? Do they use any of the same techniques we have talked about?
  • What was the goal of the model described in the reading? How did the goal affect the approach?
  • What questions do you still have about what you read as it connects to our class?

This semester I have made this post (on how to use pre-existing data to approximate data you do not have access to) part of a supplementary reading list that is part of an “engagement” score with the following writing prompts:

  • What does it mean for two data points to be similar? 
  • What are some ways you can get creative and approximate data you are interested in but do not have access too?

Browse through the pre-existing posts and keep an eye on new posts to see if anything catches your interest. Work the post into a homework question, supplementary material, or to start a classroom discussion. With the launch of DataScienceBites, there may be even more relevant topics coming soon. You may also consider having students do the browsing themselves and identify a post that connects with their interests early on in the course. Seeing what your students are most interested in may help you tailor examples to the class throughout the semester. 

Reading to Write

When you want students to engage with cutting edge work but a formal paper is a bit too overwhelming, you could consider using a “bites” summary of the paper instead. As part of a first year seminar focused on writing in the context of data, my students went through the “reading to write” activity using this post on medical imaging data as an in-class activity. The “reading to write” approach has students identify the elements of a data analysis, examine the argument made, and map the organization of the piece in order to provide a concrete template to follow in their own writing. The relative briefness of these posts can also help streamline this activity so that you can fit into a class period or homework assignment.

Practice Peer Review

Although our writers work hard to explain cutting edge research accessibly while being faithful to the nuance of the work, there is always room for revision. Before doing a larger scale peer review activity on student work (perhaps for a rough draft of a final project), you could use a MathStatBites post as practice. Feel free to use our peer review guide that we have used internally as a guide. If you are teaching high school students, you may adapt this activity to answer the question “does this post translate beyond college students to high school students?”. High school students may write some advice for editing the post to broaden the audience even further to include them. 

Incentivize Getting Involved

In the fall semester MathStatBites piloted a peer-review program that paired undergraduates with graduate student writers. Since undergraduates are part of the targeted audience, this allowed writers to get some feedback early on in the drafting process about accessibility. I incentivized my first year seminar students to get involved by making participation in this peer review process one of the options to receive a “grade boost” (more details about the set up of this class can be found here). If you have undergraduate students who would like to get involved, please reach out. If you teach graduate students, you may also consider incentivizing getting involved as a guest writer for the blog. 
Like these ideas but teach something other than mathematics or statistics? Check out the ScienceBites ecosystem for similar styled blogs on other topics. Have you used MathStatBites in the classroom? We’d love to hear from you!