There exists a new type of math course whose main intent is to prepare students for success in a college-level elementary statisics class. It is possible to find out all about this course somewhere on the web, I am sure, but let this post be a thought experiment – an attempt to list the math skills needed by a statistics student. An ill-kept secret is that not much of the subject matter of the classic algebra curriculum is used in a general education statistics class. Most of the algebra curriculum is focused on preparing students for pre-calculus and then calculus, but when students come to college most of them (unfortunately) take just one or two so-called quantitative reasoning classes and get on with their non-science or math major. The assumption by their major department is that they arrive with a set of quantitative skills and understanding that came from taking algebra classes in high school and that these skills will then be enhanced by the college level math class. These are the skills and concepts which I will be attempting to list below.
- The concept of a variable
- Formulas – evaluation and units
- Square roots
- Whole number exponents
- Proportions and percentage
- Linear math – slope and intercept, units
- The concept of area
- Graphs – two-dimensions, units
- Significant digits and rounding
- Calculator use – order of operations
- Tables of data and Σ notation
As I thought about this list and how I would teach the class, it occurred to me that most of the conceptual work could be done with a spreadsheet paradigm. Hence the last item on the list. I think that most of us if we have any data intensive or formula intensive work use spreadsheets to organize the information, document our process and avoid repetition. A spreadsheet orientated “math” class would be very cool.