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Scientific and Statistical Thinking

Two teachers participating in workshop on the scientific process.

Teachers from across the state participating in an all-day workshop on the process of scientific research at the Washington State Science and Engineering Fair. The workshop has been taught every year for the past four years by Ashley Steel and Kathryn Kelsey. In this photo, teachers are collecting quantitative observations about tree seedlings. Seedlings provided by Connie Harrington (USFS PNW Research Station, Olympia, WA).

Science is not a series of facts but a process for drawing
conclusions by making structured observations. Scientific and
statistical skills are essential not only for scientists but for
teachers, community organizers, environmental decision-
makers and other citizens. These are the ultimate consumers
of the graphs, inferences, models, and scientific reports produced
through scientific research. Yet, the proportion of the U.S.
population with adequate training in math and science to be able to
evaluate and understand the products of scientific research is
so low as to cause considerable national concern.

Ashley Steel
Kathryn A. Kelsey, Seattle Public Schools, Seattle, WA
Maureen Kennedy, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington
Pat Cunningham, USFS PNW Research Station, Corvallis, OR
John Stanovich, USFS Northern Research Station, Newtown Square, PA

Banner image of icons depicting different types of statistical errors.

Research Description:

Key scientific concepts such as ‘stating a hypothesis’ or ‘drawing conclusions from data’ are not being taught
to American students at the K-12 level. Through statistical consulting and early manuscript review, we have also
identified a series of common statistical pitfalls. The most common of these pitfalls are not errors in calculation but
in statistical thinking. That these errors persist suggests a need for new teaching approaches at higher education levels
as well. We contribute to filling this gap through teacher workshops at the Washington State Science and Engineering Fair,
involvement in local science fairs, and the literature on science and statistics education.



Note: Most PDF files linked in the publications section of this page were not created by the USDA Forest Service, and may not be accessible to screen-reader software. Many publications are open access, and links to the html versions on the journal websites are also provided, where applicable.

Steel, E.A., M.C. Kennedy, P.G. Cunningham, and J.S. Stanovick. 2013. Applied statistics in ecology: common pitfalls and simple solutions. Ecosphere 4:115. Available at http://www.esajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1890/ES13-00160.1

Steel, E.A. 2009. Is science really a verb? Educating through scientific thinking. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, April: 442-443.

Steel, E.A., K.A. Kelsey, J. Morita. 2004. The Truth about Science: A middle school curriculum teaching the scientific method. Environmental and Ecological Statistics 11: 21-29.