Teaching Statistics

With a side order of communicating statistics

How do I introduce people ot statistics/data science/analytics? What is the most punchy, most efficient modern curriculum?


I do not mean “measure theoretic probability” but rather “intuition-building introductions to the data-driven project.”

One incredible project here is Hubbard (2014), the book by Douglas Hubbard which reframes all the traditional statistics in terms of measuring things. He then compresses an incredible amount of medium-to advanced methodology into some excel spreadsheets. The art here is he gets lots of mileage out of statistical tricks that are usually emphasised for not being mathematically lavish enough to still make good exam questions.

The Curious Journalist’s Guide to Data By Jonathan Stray.

This is a book about the principles behind data journalism. Not what visualization software to use and how to scrape a website, but the fundamental ideas that underlie the human use of data. This isn’t “how to use data” but “how data works.”

This gets into some of the mathy parts of statistics, but also the difficulty of taking a census of race and the cognitive psychology of probabilities. It traces where data comes from, what journalists do with it, and where it goes after—and tries to understand the possibilities and limitations. Data journalism is as interdisciplinary as it gets, which can make it difficult to assemble all the pieces you need. This is one attempt. This is a technical book, and uses standard technical language, but all mathematical concepts are explained through pictures and examples rather than formulas.

The life of data has three parts: quantification, analysis, and communication. Quantification is the process that creates data. Analysis involves rearranging the data or combining it with other information to produce new knowledge. And none of this is useful without communicating the result.

Carl T. Bergstrom and Jevin West, in Calling bullshit: Data Reasoning in a Digital World have excellent framing and a wide syllabus of different types of bullshit curation.

Hypothesis testing

See statistical tests. My question here is: do I need to teach this? Is it ever what my students actually need?

Jonas Kristoffer Lindeløv explains classic statistical tests as linear regressions: Common statistical tests are linear models.

Daniel Lakens asks Do You Really Want to Test a Hypothesis? in a comprehensible way. He is also running an A/B test on teaching A/B tests.

If so, what kind of hypothesis testing do we want? Wilcoxon Mann-Whitney and Kruskal-Wallis tests are neat. Are they simpler than t-testing?

Can I simply teach everything via the bootstrap?

Actual stats courses

Teaching for “hackers” is one school where we attempt to give coders stats skills by leveraging thier coding skills. I think there is some intersting stuff to be done here, because coding can get you to lots of the same place as matheamtics. Cameron Davidson-Pilon, Probabilistic Programming & Bayesian Methods for Hackers (source

There are some more classical ones online, freely available.

There are also some topic-specific guides I think are worth looking at:

Hierarchical models

See this nice animated demonstration.

Look into lme4 and stan.

Philosophical / general



Recommender systems

I wish there were some more elementary introductions, but this is a weirdly badly-documented area.

  • Gormley’s slide on recommender systems
  • Andrew Ng’s course is a good explanation but you need to do the entire course

Further reading


Gelman, Andrew, Jennifer Hill, and Aki Vehtari. 2021. Regression and Other Stories. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Gelman, Andrew, and Deborah Nolan. 2017. Teaching Statistics: A Bag of Tricks. 2 edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gigerenzer, Gerd, and Ulrich Hoffrage. 1995. “How to Improve Bayesian Reasoning Without Instruction: Frequency Formats.” Psychological Review 102 (4): 684–704. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.102.4.684.
Good, Phillip I., and Philip Good. 1999. Resampling Methods: A Practical Guide to Data Analysis. Birkhäuser Basel. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4757-3049-4.
Hubbard, Douglas W. 2014. How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business. 3 edition. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley.
Kohavi, Ron, Diane Tang, and Ya Xu. 2020. Trustworthy Online Controlled Experiments: A Practical Guide to A/B Testing. Cambridge, United Kingdom ; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Lovett, Marsha, Oded Meyer, and Candace Thille. 2008. “JIME - The Open Learning Initiative: Measuring the Effectiveness of the OLI Statistics Course in Accelerating Student Learning.” Journal of Interactive Media in Education 2008 (1): Art. 13. https://doi.org/10.5334/2008-14.
McElreath, Richard. 2020. Statistical Rethinking: A Bayesian Course with Examples in R and STAN. Boca Raton: CRC Press. http://books.google.com?id=FuLWDwAAQBAJ.
Miller, Jane E. 2013. The Chicago Guide to Writing about Multivariate Analysis. Second edition. Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. https://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/C/bo15506942.html.
Nolan, Deborah, and Sara Stoudt. 2020. “Reading to Write.” Significance 17 (6): 34–37. https://doi.org/10.1111/1740-9713.01469.
Sedlmeier, P., and G. Gigerenzer. 2001. “Teaching Bayesian Reasoning in Less Than Two Hours.” Journal of Experimental Psychology. General 130 (3): 380–400. https://doi.org/10.1037//0096-3445.130.3.380.

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