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College of the Canyons involved in statistics teaching reform project

Posted: September 25, 2014 3:31 p.m.
Updated: September 25, 2014 3:31 p.m.
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In implementing the Teaching a New Generation of Statistics Educators (TANGO) Stats Ed project for the fall 2014 semester, co-principal investigators Monica Dabos of College of the Canyons and Michael Posner of Villanova University are building a foundation for statistics education reform among the nation’s community colleges.

By cooperating with some of the country’s most respected Statistics educators, the college is utilizing a three-year, $571,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to grow a project which already involves more than 35 instructors throughout the greater Los Angeles area.

“Statistics definitely has its backbone in mathematics, however mathematical and statistical thinking are very distinct,” said COC instructor Dr. Monica Dabos, who has been an instrumental figure in both developing and executing the TANGO Stats Ed project.

“Yet you have statistics being taught in a mathematical way that is too deterministic because teachers aren’t specialized,” added Dabos. “If a person has a graduate degree in statistics, they actually aren’t eligible to teach statistics at a community college in California.”

According to a Conference Board of Mathematical Sciences (CBMS) survey in 2010, there were 137,000 community college students enrolled in ‘Intro to Stats’ courses in the United States.

Yet, only two percent of full-time and part-time community college mathematics instructors have degrees in statistics. Compounding the problem is the reality that 60 percent of those teaching statistics are doing so on a part-time basis.

Since her days as an undergraduate student, Dabos had been focusing on these issues. Yet, it wasn’t until her partnership with Villanova University professor Dr. Michael A. Posner that her mission began to more fully materialize.

“I focus on professional development at Villanova, and have an interest at spreading that to many levels,” Posner says. “When Monica told me about her focus on the community college level, it seemed like a manageable project for a specific group particularly in need."

After the two outlined the project, Dabos approached the college’s then-Assistant Superintendent/Vice President of Instruction Joe Gerda.

“When she approached me with this, it seemed like such a worthy cause,” Gerda says. “It’s amazing the incredible mentors she’s brought on board, including Jessica Utts, who’s the new president of the American Statistical Association.”

Added Gerda, “We’ve identified the problem, and for a long time with the lack of structure in professional development for statistics teachers, it was hopelessness — but now Monica and Michael are working on a legitimate solution.”

Gerda, now teaching and co-coordinating statistics courses with Dabos, worked to secure a grant through the COC Chancellor’s office that established a summer “pilot project” in the college’s Summer Training Institute for Statistics earlier this year.

Coordinated by Dabos and Kathy Kubo, the Summer Institute was held at COC in July, with numerous community college instructors and two high school teachers receiving instruction from leading educators Dr. Allan Rossman and Dr. Beth Chance.

The success of the summer pilot program can only mean good things for the larger-scale TANGO initiative, which will continue on grant funds provided by the Chancellor’s office until the beginning of 2015, when NSF funding kicks in.

Once in place, TANGO Stats Ed is projected to have a positive impact on more than 10,000 community college students across the nation.

Additionally, the structure is sustainable, meaning statistics instructors educated through TANGO will be able to return as program mentors. This design will create a web of knowledge that goes well beyond the years and dollars provided by the NSF grant.

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