RMIT University statistics experts are providing junior secondary students across Australia with an innovative statistical investigation experience.
The Islands in Schools Project began at RMIT in 2014 as a way to enrich the teaching of statistics and data analysis in junior secondary schools across Australia.
With the participation of teachers from Queensland, Western Australia and Victoria, relevant project-based learning resources are applied in Years 7 to 10 maths and science classes.
Developed by Dr Michael Bulmer from the University of Queensland, the project aims to reinvigorate the teaching of statistics in Australian secondary schools through a simulated environment of three islands populated by thousands of life-like inhabitants.
The virtual playground engages students in realistic data investigations, without the practical and ethical constraints of research involving humans.
Students propose questions, design investigations and collect the necessary data for statistical analysis and interpretation. A wide range of data and tasks available on the Islands caters to many scientific areas and student interests.
Project leader and RMIT statistics lecturer Dr James Baglin said the project had a number of unique features.
“The Islands have more than 34,000 virtual inhabitants spread across three geographically diverse islands who are born, die, relocate, and even get sick in advanced time,” he said.
“Each inhabitant possesses unique personal histories, genetics and ethnicity with realistic attributes, such as a right to refuse consent or an ability to lie, and they even sleep during the night so that students learn about the practicalities of investigations.”
The project provides an opportunity to undertake different types of investigations including surveys, observational studies and experiments using agricultural, climatic, education and employment models.
“Students are presented with meaningful, real-life problems and in one particular activity, students must investigate the mental health needs of islanders from a small village by designing a mood-related survey and administering it to a random sample of residents,” Baglin said.
“Students then collate information and ultimately identify key mental health issues facing the village.”
The learning resources presented within the Islands in Schools Project aim to enrich and contextualise students’ experiences of statistics and data analysis and help to improve attitudes and knowledge of career pathways in related fields such as mathematics and analytics.
Teachers now have new and engaging ways to teach statistics and have found that even students who are easily distracted in class enjoyed working on the modules.
Educators from across Australia are invited to visit the Islands in Schools Project website to sign up for a free account where they can find out more about the virtual world and download free learning resources.
Story: Claire Hart