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Professors Awarded NSF Grant to Study How Students Learn Statistics and Improve Learning Support

Dr. Laura Callis and Dr. Jennifer McNally
September 26, 2023


Academics | Faculty Accomplishments | Student Success

Two Curry College mathematics professors were awarded a nearly $400,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to study how students learn statistics and how to improve teaching practices that support students learning introductory concepts, particularly for students with learning differences and those with varied math backgrounds. Dr. Laura Callis (pictured above, left) and Dr. Jennifer McNally (pictured above, right) are both faculty members in Curry’s Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

“In mathematics and statistics education, we know that one of the main ways instructors can improve student learning is by making sense of and building on student thinking,” said Callis. “But there is not a lot of research on student thinking in statistics at the undergraduate level. There's even less research on how college students with learning and attention differences think about these ideas. Often, these students are invisible in research reports.”

The NSF’s Improving Undergraduate STEM Education grant will support the professors’ three-year project titled “Discourse to Improve Conceptual Understanding of Statistics in Inclusive Settings.”

“This grant allows us to study students’ conceptions, both valid and developing, of key statistical ideas, to capture them and share them with other statistics instructors,” said McNally.

Both Callis and McNally said that Curry is the perfect learning environment for this research. According to McNally, “the great thing about teaching here is that it makes you pay attention to your students—how diverse they are in their thinking and reasoning, what their needs are, and the scaffolds they perceive to be supportive. It forces you to seek out and apply best practices in the teaching of your discipline.”

“Our students are very willing and skilled in explaining how their brains work, how that might be different from their peers, and what kind of instruction works for them,” said Callis. “We feel very lucky that this grant will allow us to capitalize on our students' insights to share with other professors looking to improve teaching and learning in introductory statistics for all of their students.”