Professor of Psychology uses new methods to introduce high school students to statistics

GREENVILLE, Pa.—Thiel College Assistant Professor of Psychology Kristel Gallagher, Ph.D., recently completed a program at the University of Central Washington that introduced high school students to statistics courses in an untraditional manner.

Gallagher taught a weeklong course to high school students, “Passion Driven Statistics,” which is similar to the course she teaches at Thiel College, a leading liberal arts college in northwest Pennsylvania, “Statistics for the Social Sciences.”

“I was drawn to this model of teaching statistics because it makes statistics real for students—it’s not about formulas, it’s not about functions, it’s not even about math,” Gallagher said. “‘Passion Driven Statistics’ is about learning to use statistics to understand real world problems and conduct meaningful research. So many of our students have a fear of math, but they quickly realize that statistics is so much more than just math.”

The students were participants in Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs. Gallagher was invited by Wesleyan University Professor of Psychology Lisa Dierker, Ph.D., to join her this summer at Central Washington University to work with the GEAR UP students. About 20 students participated in the week-long residential program at Central Washington University. Southwest Oklahoma State University Professor of Psychology Kristin Woods, Ph.D., also contributed to the program. 

Gallagher said the high school students followed a condensed but similar course plan to college-level students. Class participants developed research questions from the adolescent health dataset and learned computer coding and how to use that coding to statistically answer research questions. The students then created research posters to display their findings in a poster session.

“I love teaching statistics using this model because it has made my classroom a place where my students are the stars of their own shows, instead of it being about what I bring to the classroom,” Gallagher said. “My students bring their ideas, passion and experiences to the classroom to answer their research questions. I’m just there to guide them and provide the skill sets they need to understand applied statistics.”

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Thiel College is a private liberal arts institution founded in the Lutheran tradition. Located in Greenville, Pa., the College offers 60 majors and minors, 25 varsity sports, and a 10:1 student-faculty ratio to more than 900 students. A dedicated faculty paired with dynamic research and internship opportunities produce numerous graduate school and job placements. Coeducational from its beginnings, the College remains committed to combining tradition with innovation as it celebrates 150 years.