Teaching statistics, one comic at a time


Have you ever noticed that it’s easier to learn something complex if you already know a bit about the topic in general? There’s a word for this: elaboration [1]. It’s the process of linking the things you already know with the things that you’re learning, and one of the ways teachers can help that process along is by using analogies. Analogies and metaphors rely on the fact that you already have neural pathways setup that can be applied to a new situation [2].

With analogies, you can learn something totally new by comparing it to something you are familiar with. That’s what Dax and I are trying to do in a series of “statistical vignettes”. It’s all part of a larger education project called Project EDDIE. Our approach involves using comics and stories to give undergraduate students a framework to build upon when they’re learning about new things like correlation, p-values, and probability. Project EDDIE modules give students a chance to learn scientific concepts by analyzing real-world datasets, and the statistical vignettes are mini lessons that can be used as needed to support the main topic.

The sample comic at the top of this post shows a very abbreviated version of how we might build a statistical vignette on the concept of correlation. Of course, there’s a lot more to correlation than what’s shown here, but we’d just like to introduce Rita because we’re planning on including her as a character for many (all?) future vignettes.

I’ll probably keep posting ideas, sketches, and examples here. Feedback is welcome!


[1] Ancker, J. S., & Begg, M. D. (2017). Using Visual Analogies To Teach Introductory Statistical Concepts. Numeracy10(2), 7.

[2] Oakley, B. A. (2014). A mind for numbers: How to excel at math and science (even if you flunked algebra). Tarcher.

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