I’m teaching part of a basic medical statistics class this summer. It’s been about a decade since I’ve taught basic probability and statistics and I now have different ideas about what is important. For example, I now think it’s more important that a beginning class understand the law of small numbers than the law of large numbers.
One reason for my change of heart is that over the intervening years I’ve talked with people who have had a class like the one I’m teaching now and I have some idea what they got out of it. They might summarize their course as follows.
First we did probability. You know, coin flips and poker hands. Then we did statistics. That’s where you look up these numbers in tables and if the number is small enough then what you’re trying to prove is true, and otherwise it’s false.
Too many people get through a course in probability and statistics without understanding what probability has to do with statistics. I think we’d be better off “covering” far less material but trying to insure that students really grok two or three big ideas by the time they leave.