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A political sociological course on statistics for high school students

Ben Frisch writes:

I am designing a semester long non-AP Statistics course for high school juniors and seniors. I am wondering if you had some advice for the design of my class. My currentthinking for the design of the class includes:

0) Brief introduction to R/ R Studio and descriptive statistics and data sheet structure.

1) Great Migration in 20th Century US. Students will read sections of “The Warmth of Other Suns”. Each student will explore the size of the Great migration from the South in an industrial city of their choice. We will use the IPUMS micro census data to estimate white and black migration from Southern states and use the income figures to compare migrants and non migrant residents over the years 1910 – 1980. The old teaching software package Fathom used to do the sampling from IPUMS easily, but the Census sampling feature now no longer works with the newer operating systems. I will have the students sample directly from the University of Minnesota site and then decode their samples in excel and R Studio. A final part of the project will be visits with retired people who were a part of the migration.

2) I plan to have the students divide into working groups to prepare statistical information for lobbying elected officials on a social problem of their choice. We have access to the AFSC’s Criminal Justice program near at our school and immigration rights might fruitful topic to study after our examination of migration.

3) It will be primary season again next Spring and I would love to have the students look at geographical effects in political elections. We will, of course, study polling and survey design and explore sampling distributions.

I have just picked up copies of year texts “A Quantitative Tour…” and “Teaching Statistics…” and I plan to mine them for other activities to explore. I also will be catching up on reading your blog!

This sounds great! My only tip is to do as much of the data analysis yourself first so you can be sure your students can handle it. I did some ipums stuff recently and there were lots of little details with the data that were difficult to handle at first.

Perhaps readers of this blog will have other suggestions.


  1. Chris Pounds says:

    I heard the podcast for Demography 145 at Berkeley that may be nice background for the students on the historical context of migration.

  2. Rahul says:

    Why not get them to try and predict something? Perhaps even something trivial.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Possibly plug immigration into a SIR model as births and see what effect this should have on infectious disease. Then that can be compared to city level cdc data (check the tycho project for lots of historical data). How can the simple model be improved, what extra info do we need to test this model (eg the percent immune in the immigrating population)?

    Thats maybe too much?

  4. Elin says:

    I definitely agree with do the analysis first.
    I think working with PUMS is pretty ambitious but you could certainly make a whole course of it.
    Another dataset that might be fascinating for high school students to look at is NELS88 or maybe High School and Beyond. These are really good, real world data sets that also are good and commonly used for first statistics courses in sociology. I just downloaded NELS88 from the National Center for Educational Statistics the other day and it came ready to go for R or other packages. Of course there is work to do (deciding how to deal with missing values etc) and creating new variables, but it’s all well documented. The only thing I would say is that with beginners I’d ignore the complex weighting and just deal with individuals. Maybe toward the end you could look at the weighting issues.

    I think this might be cool because they could also collect some of their own data from other students in the school and compare it to the sample as a whole or a subsample of comparable schools.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Hi Andrew

    It seems like you skipped the regularly scheduled program of

    Wed: How to analyze hierarchical survey data with post-stratification?

    Would you be posting this? I was looking forward to that post.

  6. Anonymous says:

    The goals are great and lofty.

    I think you should prioritize analysis and hypothetical ‘actions’ based on the analysis. I like the lobbying idea.

    You should downplay and streamline the technical work such data wrangling and software. I suspect this will be eye glazers for high school students, especially the non-ap crowd.

    • Elin says:

      One of the problems with the AP curriculum is that it doesn’t use any specific statistics software (R, SPSS, Minitab), it uses graphing calculators. I guess this is partly a function of what they can do in a testing environment. I think learning to use software is one of the great advantages of doing a non AP class and now that either R or python would be available, go for it. In my opinion almost anything in R is easier than doing it on a graphing calculator. There are also a number of intro stats packages for R, for example Mosaic (but there are more).

  7. Eric says:

    I like the open intro project. They have a book for high school statistics here:

    Which has labs, etc. Their labs provide a pretty good introduction to R.

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