[R] introducing R to high school students

Tyler Rinker tyler_rinker at hotmail.com
Wed Apr 18 17:09:55 CEST 2012

As a former math teacher I understand your concerns wholly.  My perspective is that this must be approached with caution so you don't miss out on the important learning but I think with proper guidance and scaffolding this could be an amazing tool.  We already using the graphing capabilities of the TI-(insert number here) to demonstrate graphing problems, why not put a sophisticated tool in their hands that may be very useful to them in the future and at least introduce them to programming.  Students are capable of some pretty cool and creative things if we give them the tools and support to allow them to be creative (I mean which one of use didn't program out ti-81s to play video games?).
Your point of the learning being hindered isn't lost.  This has to be approached delicately so R isn't just another program spitting out answers/graphs.  Chris's question sounds like a one time intro thing so this may be a moot pint, however if the R learning is more long term, I would suggest some sort of lab set up (maybe a "lab day") each week that augments and compliments the standard curriculum.  One thing I may advise against is the  "--maybe t-tests, chi-square tests, and simple linear regression." as this is usually far beyond the scope of high school curriculum (at least to my knowledge). 
Could I also suggest you do some eye candy (not much but some) where you show a few of the things R is capable of to get their interests peaked (I consider this like playing guitar; I learned it because Hendrix played sweet stuff not because I liked playing basic chords and scales; I plugged through the elementary stuff because I knew Hendrix, Clapton, and Page were within my grasp if I kept going).  Here's a few suggestions:http://paulbutler.org/archives/visualizing-facebook-friends/

And also I'd introduce them to Anthony Damico's "r twotorials" as it provides catchy short tutorials on how to do basic stuff:http://www.twotorials.com/2012/04/

I wish I knew R when I was a math teacher and applaud any effort to engage students in authentic learning with powerful tools that they may use later on.  I would encourage physics teachers to incorporate R too.  
Tyler Rinker
From: indra_calisto at yahoo.com
To: R-help at r-project.org
Subject: Re: [R] introducing R to high school students

Hi Chris,

I am not sure, whether introducing R to High School students would be a good idea as I feel we should encourage students to sketch the graphs in paper to get their concepts right. Excel is fine, but - if I write an equation on the board, will the student be able to visualize its graph? Allowing students to use software to plot graphs at a very early age may hinder that learning. What I would focus on (as the teacher pointed out - that they may not be able to write code) - is being able to write simple codes to get a grasp on programming (they can use QBASIC which is one of the simplest programming softwares).

R to my mind should be introduced at an undergraduate level - where they are able to use its real power (vectors, matrices, graphics etc.).

Thats my view :)


From: Christopher W Ryan <cryan at binghamton.edu>
To: R-help <R-help at r-project.org>
Sent: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 8:16 AM
Subject: [R] introducing R to high school students

I participate peripherally on a listserve for middle- and high-school
science teachers. Sometimes questions about graphing or data analysis
come up. I never miss an opportunity to advocate for R. However, the
teachers are often skeptical that their students would be able to
issue commands or write a little code; they think it would be too
difficult. Perhaps this stems from the Microsoft- and
spreadsheet-centered, pointy-clicky culture prevalent in most US
public schools. Then again, I have little experience teaching this age
group, besides my own kids and my Science Olympiad team, so I respect
their concerns and expertise.

I don't know yet what software they generally use, but I suspect MS
Excel and SPSS.

Now I have to put my money where my mouth is. I've offered to visit a
high school and introduce R to some fairly advanced students
participating in a longitudinal 3-year science research class.

I anticipate keeping things very simple:
--objects and the fact that there is stuff inside them. str(), head(), tail()
--how to get data into R
--dataframes, as I imagine they will mostly be using single,
"rectangular" datasets
--a lot of graphics (I can't imagine that  plot(force, acceleration)
is beyond a high-schooler's capability.)
--simple descriptive statistics
--maybe t-tests, chi-square tests, and simple linear regression.

Alas, probably more than we would have time to cover.

Has anyone done anything with R in high schools?


--Chris Ryan
SUNY Upstate Medical University
Binghamton Clinical Campus

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