Formerly Unknown Roots of Statway

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By Rose Asera

The Statway began as an idea and a possibility: many community college students are interested in fields that require statistics. And math faculty to a surprising degree concur that elementary and intermediate algebra are not really required for and do not actually prepare students for statistics. Would it be possible to create a one-year course that takes students who place into developmental mathematics to and through a college level statistics course in one academic year? Could the course be designed so that the relevant mathematics is taught in the context of statistics, using the power of contextual learning and the motivation of real world problems?

While we are building the first iteration of the Statway, it is delightful to learn of a one-year statistics course that had been organized in this spirit. With thanks Joe Malkevitch, a retired mathematics professor from York College, for this description.

York College in Jamaica, N.Y., is one of nine CUNY four-year colleges. It opened in 1967 and served the same range of “at risk” students that community colleges regularly serve: single mothers, military veterans (predominantly African-American and Hispanic), immigrants, first-generation college goers, and low-income students.

The goal—shared college wide—was to allow students to fulfill their dreams and not let deficiencies in their backgrounds get in the way. The college offered a range of mathematics options: Calculus, Statistics, Finite Mathematics for Business, Computers in Modern Society, and a Mathematical Excursions course. Students could choose their mathematics based on their career plans. Students interested in psychology could take statistics for a general education requirement, while students interested in nursing might also choose statistics.

The math department recognized that students could be highly motivated to take statistics, but didn’t necessarily have the background. Instead of requiring a prerequisite remedial class or an algebra review, they designed a year-long four-credit statistics course. Each semester students signed up for a course that was four credit hours. If they succeeded in that course, they earned two hours of college credit and two credits of developmental mathematics. However, for the purpose of being considered a full-time student, the course counted as four hours. Students had to complete the whole year to get credit for the statistics course. Each semester’s content covered some college-level statistics, but also provided time to review background mathematics as needed.

This one-year statistics course wasn’t an experimental course, or the domain of one particular faculty member. It was a standard departmental offering from early in the 1970s to the late 1980s when as a CUNY senior college they could no longer offer developmental courses. In recalling this class, Malkevitch said, “It seemed successful; students seemed motivated. Everyone got to start statistics, and more than half went on to the second semester. Before, when algebra was required, fewer than half of the students would even get to start statistics. It certainly seemed possible to teach the conceptual basis of statistics without a great deal of symbol manipulation.” This is an observation about learning statistics that Paul Nolting has also found in his work.

 In education, good ideas have a way of appearing in different times and places. As we build the Statway, we are glad to know of a solid

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