Using the book How Not to be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg, Coomes is teaching students in her First-Year Experience course how to critically analyze statistics, and how to use math to better understand everyday situations that are often taken for granted.
“It’s about seeing everyday, real-life events, when an argument is made, how do we look underneath to see what the structure is first,” said Coomes. “You can think of a graph as an argument by the creator of the graph. [The creators] try to get you to see what’s going on and the way the person wants you to see it. So they’ve chosen their data and how they display it very carefully.”
Not to be confused with being a “number crunching” class, Coomes said students are expected to think quantitatively about the way statistical arguments are made. This includes examples of how the judicial system works to decide whether someone is guilty or not guilty, how to pragmatically parse through ideas about the stock market or lottery and how to understand the world in a more meaningful way.
“One of the better, more common examples, would be in football games when they go and review a tape to decide whether the call on the field is going to stand or if they’re going to throw it out because there’s enough evidence,” said Coomes. “It’s the same way statistics are used to determine cause and effect.”
While the goal for the FYE courses is to help first-year students learn in such ways that they’re relating the content to their lives and their future, the experience isn’t just limited to the classroom.
This year, Coomes is having a movie night with her class, and in previous years she’s taken her classes to Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge and hosted barbecues at her house.
“We do a lot of community building, and one of the most exciting parts is working with new freshmen as they’re getting used to college,” said Coomes. “But the other exciting part is being in a community of faculty who all are trying to do fun things that really touch on the lives of our new freshmen.”