A study of student teachers' performance and psychological characteristics in learning introductory statistics
The research study for this thesis was carried out in three stages. In the first stage, factors that might affect the learning of introductory statistics for student teachers were investigated. The factors were attitudes related to learning statistics, and the effects of the limitation of the student teachers’ psychological characteristics (namely, perceptual fields or the degree of field dependency and working memory space). In addition to these factors, student teachers’ performances in a test to identify misconceptions in basic descriptive statistics concepts and probability and also in their final statistics examination were scrutinised. The results from the first stage indicated that student teaches generally had positive attitudes toward learning statistics but not toward the introductory statistics course which was described as dull or uninspiring and too mathematical. The student teachers appeared not to cope with the task of taking down the lecture notes and simultaneously trying to understand the statistical concepts to be learned. Student teachers’ performance in the statistics examination revealed a significant correlation with their working memory although not with their degree of field dependency. From the test, misconceptions about certain concepts in basic descriptive statistics and probability were identified. These correlations may reflect the nature of the test materials as much as the nature of statistics. Based on the findings from the first stage, interactive statistics learning materials employing the cooperative learning method were developed in the second stage and given to an experimental group of student teachers from five teacher training colleges. Another group of student teachers (called the comparison group) from the same colleges were taught the same materials but through the traditional lecture method. A post-questionnaire and a test based on the materials learned were given to both groups after the completion of the second stage study. The degree of field dependency for the student teacher in both groups was also measured. Results from the post-questionnaire revealed that the experimental group overwhelmingly favoured the learning units that were based on the interactive and cooperative learning while the comparison group regarded the lecture method as being dull and uninspiring. It also appeared that learning statistics based on the cooperative learning method was more favoured by the male student teachers, the Non-Mathematics Education group and the field dependent student teachers. Perhaps, not surprisingly, the experimental group performed better than the comparison group in the test based on the learning materials. In the third stage, opinions were sought from the student teachers in their final semester of study, concerning their readiness to teach statistics in school. They also sat a multiple-choice test about basic concepts in descriptive statistics and probability. In addition, the working memory capacity and the degree of field dependency of the student teachers were also measured. The findings revealed that a majority of the student teacher did not have confidence in teaching statistics. This probably stemmed from the difficulty in understanding certain statistical concepts and perhaps the statistic courses that they had attended did not provide them with a good training. The findings from the test also revealed that misconceptions in some statistical concepts still persisted and that the student teachers appeared to have forgotten some, if not all, statistical subject matter that they had previously learned in the statistics lectures. Generally, these findings indicated the weaknesses of the traditional format of teaching introductory statistics course through the lecture method.