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General Info.
Term Syllabus
( Welcome to Chance!, Organization, Discussion Groups, Journals, Homework, Final Project, Chance Fair, Grades, Resources )
Term Schedule
Homework Assignments
Classroom Demos

[ You can also download a printable copy of the syllabus as a PostScript or PDF file. ]

There are three kinds of lies---lies, damn lies, and statistics. --- Mark Twain

Welcome to Chance! Home Page / Term Syllabus. ( Welcome to Chance! )

Chance is an unconventional math course. The standard elementary math course develops a body of mathematics in a systematic way and gives some highly simplified real-world example in the hope of suggesting the importance of the subject. In Chance we will choose serious applications of statistics and probability and make these the focus of the course, developing concepts in probability and statistics only to the extent necessary to understand the applications. The goal is to make you better able to come to your own conclusions about news stories involving chance issues.

Topics that might be covered in Chance include:

During the course, we will choose a variety of topics to discuss, with special emphasis on topics currently in the news. We might start by reading a newspaper account of the topic in a newspaper like the New York Times or the Boston Globe. We might then read other accounts of the subject, including perhaps articles from journals like Chance Magazine, Science, Nature, and Scientific American, and also original journal articles. We might supplement these articles with readings on basic probability and statistics relate to the topic, or with computer simulations and statistical demonstrations to better illustrate the relevant theoretical concepts.

Organization Home Page / Term Syllabus. ( Organization )

The class will differ from traditional math classes in organization as well as in content. The class meetings will emphasize group discussions, rather than the more traditional lecture format. Students will keep journals to record their thoughts and questions.. Additional homework will be assigned weekly. There will be a major final project in place of a final exam.

Discussion Groups Home Page / Term Syllabus. ( Discussion Groups )

Discussions are central to the course and usually focus on a current article in the news. They provide a context in which to explore questions in more depth and understand material better by explaining it to others. Due to the interactive nature of the course, you will be expected to come to class and to engage whole-heartedly in the discussions.

Every member of each group is expected to take part in these discussions. Each of you also have a responsibility to make sure that everyone is involved, that everyone is being heard, everyone is listening, that the discussion is not dominated by one person, that everyone understands what is going on, and that the group sticks to the subject.

Journals Home Page / Term Syllabus. ( Journals )

Each participant should keep a journal for the course, which is separate from the weekly homework assignments. A good journal should answer questions asked (and left unanswered) in class and should include

Principally, a good journal should also provide evidence that you have spent some time thinking about questions of your own. There should be evidence of original thought, evidence that you have spent some time thinking about things that you weren't specifically asked about. For example, this might take the form of In writing your journal, exposition is important. If you are presenting the answer to a questions, explain what the questions is. If you are giving an argument, explain what the point is before you launch into it. What you should aim for is something that could communicate to a friend or colleague a coherent idea of what you have been thinking and doing in the course.

We encourage you to cooperate with each other in working on anything in the course, but what you put in your journal should be your own, alone. If you include something that has emerged from work with other people, write down with whom you have worked. Ideas that come from other people should be given proper attribution. If you have referred to sources other than the textbook for the course, cite them.

Your journal should be kept on loose-leaf paper or in electronic form. Journals will be collected each Tuesday to be read and commented upon. If they are on loose-leaf paper, you can hand in the parts which have not yet been read, while continuing to work on further entries. Similarly, if they are in an electronic form, you can print out the parts that have not yet been read, while continuing to work on further entries. Please remember to write your name on your journal and to write your name on each part of your journal you hand in.

Each part of your journal which is handed in will be graded on a scale of 0 to 3. The numbers have roughly the following meanings:

0No journal was handed in, or what was handed in was in no way acceptable.
1The journal entries lacked any demonstration of original or independent thought.
2The journal entries were acceptable, demonstrating an adequate amount of original thinking on topics relevant to the course.
3The journal entries were exceptionally thoughtful or insightful, exhibiting extensive independent thinking on topics relevant to the course.

The grades you receive on your journal entries will (collectively) constitute 30% of your grade for the course.

Homework Home Page / Term Syllabus. ( Homework )

To supplement the discussion in class and assignments to be written about in your journals, we will assign readings from Statistics by Freedman, Pisani, and Purvis, as well as accompanying written homework. Then you write the solutions to these homework problems, you should keep them separate from your journals. Homework assignments will be given once a week and should be handed in on Tuesdays.

Each homework assignment will be graded on a scale of 0 to 5. The numbers have roughly the following meanings:

0No homework was handed in.
1Many or most problems were not executed correctly, and exposition was poor to non-existent.
2Many problems were incorrectly executed, or exposition was quite poor.
3Almost all of the problems were correctly executed, but poor exposition made grading difficult at best.
4All the problems were correctly executed and adequately exposited.
5All the problems were correctly executed and thoughtfully organized and explained.

The grades you receive on your homework assignments will (collectively) constitute 30% of your grade for the course.

Final Project Home Page / Term Syllabus. ( Final Project )

We will not have a final exam for the course, but in its place, you will undertake a major project. Under the guidance of the instructors, you will design and carry out your own statistical study. Some examples of previous projects can be found in the Chance Database. However, you are encouraged to invent your own ideas for projects. As the time to begin organizing and planning you projects approaches, more details about final projects will be forthcoming.

The grade you receive on your final project will constitute 30% of your grade for the course.

Chance Fair Home Page / Term Syllabus. ( Chance Fair )

At the end of the course we will hold a Chance Fair, where you will have the opportunity to present your final project to the class as a whole. The Fair will be held during the final examination time assigned by the registrar.

Grades Home Page / Term Syllabus. ( Grades )

Your grade will be determined by your written homework (30%), journals (30%), and final project (30%).

Resources Home Page / Term Syllabus. ( Resources )

Materials related to the course and its administration will be made available at the course's web site,

Several other interesting and useful sources of information have already been mentioned:


Created on 12 Jul 1998 by A. L. Jones
Modified on 22 Sep 1998 by A. L. Jones.
All graphics created using The GIMP.