Teaching Journal: Day 0

This begins my two week tarriance at Cornell, teaching ILR-ST somenumberorother, a course in the Masters of Professional Studies, which is not unlike, though not entirely the same as, an MBA. Students are mostly working professionals who have not seen the inside of an algebraic equation in many a year. Though to learn these things they’ve come to the right guy, for

I’m very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,
I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical,
About binomial theorem I’m teeming with a lot o’ news —
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.

And from these theorems it’s a straight line to the, well, to the straight line, the second of only two equations with which I re-familiarize students. The other is Bayes’s theorem, so named after the Most Reverend Thomas Bayes. Nothing but simple multiplication and division, really. Even you, dear reader, can do it.

I invite you to play along with us this year. You’ll need a protractor, a compass, a new box of crayons, or whatever writing implement you prefer, and my class notes. The latest version of the book/class notes, free for the asking, can be found at my book page. The paper copy is passable, but (somehow) my enemies have surreptitiously ferreted into it an array of embarrassing typos.

This blog will thus function sort of, kind of, a little like, but not really, an on-line class. But with no registrations or promises. And with most of the onus on you to keep up.

Like I mentioned a few weeks back, I run the class with a lot of back and forth between me and the students. Mostly questions and answers and more questions and more answers. Trouble is, I don’t have a list of preprepared questions, just ideas. Everything changes depending on what students already have in their heads.

Speaking of that: the easiest students to teach, incidentally, are those who haven’t had a statistics course before. Everything is strange to them, but new and congenial. The hardest to influence are those who anchor their minds to a fixed point: for them, everything is interpreted in the context of the old; the new is never new. Actually, of course, I don’t run into the latter type in this classroom.

Class officially starts tomorrow, 9 am sharp. When I lectured undergraduates, I’ve been known to begin speaking at the strike of the bell even into an empty room. This is an old, and now unbreakable habit inculcated into me by my Uncle Sam, who taught me that “on time” meant 15 minutes early, that “late” meant on time, and that there is no allowable third category. But you, dear reader, may show up whenever it is convenient, or even not at all.

Homework today is to mediate on the reasons, motivations, and other character flaws that would lead somebody to want to take a class in statistics in the middle of summer vacation, in the (forecasted) ninety-degree heat.

Today is my day to struggle to recall what it is I want to teach. I usually review my notes, knowing that for the first day I never go much beyond Chapter 1.

Oh yes. The first reminder. I require all students to collect their own data. It should look something like the appendicitis.csv file on the books page. You can read all about the structure of this file in the book (can’t recall the chapter).

This should be data of interest to you, to answer a question you want answered. My students generally pick something work-related, but many choose hobbies or other interests. I’ve had weather in golf tournaments, Top Chef (who’s favored, New York- or LA-based chefs), boxing (who’s favored, righties or south-paws), wine tasting, and on and on.

It’s up to you to figure this out. But if you want to play, start thinking about this now. Two weeks isn’t enough time to procrastinate.

I’ll try and answer whatever questions you have, but be warned that I probably won’t be able to answer everything. I’ll just refer you to old blog posts or relevant sections in the book.

The only bad part is that since you’re doing this remotely, you won’t be able to join us for the wine tour and tasting next Saturday. I’ll post pictures.

Get a good night’s sleep. See you in the morning.


  1. William Sears


    Quote: “I’ve been known to begin speaking at the strike of the bell even into an empty room.”
    I like the cut of your jib. This reminds me of a story about Isaac Newton. Paraphrasing: He would lecture to each class for forty minutes, but only twenty minutes if no one showed up.

  2. Ray

    “want to take a class in statistics in the middle of summer vacation”
    In graduste school I signed up to take a partial differential equations course in the summer. Only 3 students showed up so the professor was going to cancel the course. We students did a formidable beg, whine and grovel so the professor agreed to hold the course. He made us students teach the course. We each were assigned to lecture on a section of the book once a week. What made this really difficult was the professor did not allow you to use notes. You had to stand in front of the class and lecture for over an hour (summer class periods were an hour and a half) with no notes. The professor sat with the other students and would ask questions. I spent many hours every week all summer studying for that course. I was either a dedicated student or a masochist.

  3. tim lambert

    So you’ll post the course material on this blog?

    Alittle confused on how this is supposed to work. But I would love to have the opportunity to learn something about stats.

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