Using the island to teach statistics through data investigations: A pilot project in Australian secondary schools


  • James Baglin School of Mathematical and Geospatial Sciences, RMIT University
  • Minh Huynh Department of Statistics, Data Science & Epidemiology, Swinburne University of Technology


Declines in secondary school students’ attitudes towards, and participation in, mathematics and science are cause for concern. In 2012, a report from the Office of the Chief Scientist called for universities and schools to develop partnerships aimed at improving mathematics and science education in schools. Responding to this call, this pilot project used an online simulation of a human population, known as the Island (Bulmer & Haladyn, 2011), to develop innovative activities for teaching statistics through data investigations within the Statistics strand of the Australian Mathematics Curriculum. The Island-based activities aimed to engage students in meaningful and realistic statistical practice and thereby improve their attitudes towards statistics. The resources were piloted in four partnered secondary schools from the northern suburbs of Melbourne in years 8 to 11 mathematics classes. Questionnaire data from students’ attitudes towards statistics before and after completing the project activities were collected from 237 students. The results found statistically significant increases in positive attitudes towards statistics, however, students’ attitudes towards career prospects in statistics were resistant to change and competency significantly declined. This paper discusses the limitations of these findings and the future directions for a national project.