Math 243A
Spring, 2004


Instructor:  Thomas L. Scofield       My website: 
NH 281
subject to change (see my website)
Text:  Applied Statistics for Engineers and Scientists, by Devore & Farnum (DF)
Class meetings:  MTuWF, 9-9:50 am, NH B64 (unless otherwise directed)

         * Welcome
* Course Objectives
* Contacting the professor           
* Use of technology
* Determination of your grade
* Accomodations for disabilities
* Class citizenship


Welcome to this introductory course in statistics. Statistics is a relatively young field (100 years or so old), one that grew out of roots in the mathematical study of probability and chance events, but has ends more like that of the scientist who wishes to draw conclusions about the world from data, knowing that error and imprecision are inevitable. One might define statistics as “the science and art of obtaining, analyzing and interpreting data for the purpose of reaching conclusions” (Urquhart, 1971).

Despite its relative youth, the field has assumed an important role in society today. Politicians use polls to tailor their messages, and short-term social studies to decide long-term policy. New drugs are approved for use only after experiments indicate some benefit with essentially no life-threatening risk. Business decisions are increasingly data-driven. Like it or not, the trend toward needing to back up one's argument with statistically-sound results is likely only to continue.

As Christians, if we take seriously the Reformed idea of working to help redeem Creation, then one way to equip ourselves for this task may very well be to learn the language and methods of statistics. At a minimum, this can help us to discern between good and poor statistical argument, insulating us from being swayed by the latter, while helping us not to cast aside the former too readily when the argument is counter to our own opinions. And, if you learn the methods well, you will improve your ability to discover relationships between variables on your own, and perhaps even help affect changes that make society better for all.

Course Objectives

Contacting the Professor

My office is NH 281. The hours I am intentionally in my office for student questions are posted on my homepage, and are subject to change during the semester. If we cannot hook up at one of these times, feel free to talk with me about an appointed time to meet, or swing by my office in the hopes that I am available to help. If you feel yourself falling behind in the class, it is very important not to put things off, but to seek help right away. Do not wait until a time close to an exam before speaking with me.

I may be reached by phone at x66856, but a better way to reach me is by email. If you require my approval for something, do not consider having left a message for me as equivalent to having obtained that approval.

Use of Technology

A good deal of computer use will be expected of you in this course. Generally speaking, daily homework assignments are available on the the web, and it is your responsibility to visit the homework page to find out what they are. While many announcements, hints, etc. may be given in class, things that cannot wait until the next class period will be sent to you as email messages. Thus, it is important that you be checking your email at least twice daily. I have requested a class email list to which you can send messages at

Any mail sent to this address will be received by all members of the class (including me). You may use it as a forum for discussing assigned problems, topics that came up in class, etc.

We will spend a portion of class time in the mathematics computer lab, located in NH B67. Our purpose there will be to learn a statistical software package, and then use it to run simulations, display data, compute statistics, and carry out standard statistical tests. Sometimes our activities there may be organized into formal labs, and on other occasions they may be teacher-guided.

You are encouraged (sometimes even required) to use this same kind of technology as you carry out assigned problems. Most problems (and, indeed, all test problems) may be carried out by hand (perhaps employing a calculator), but it is useful to employ the rule of two, by which I mean that you set up and carry out the problem solution by hand, and then repeat the process as it would be done using software.


While the final grading scale for the course will not be determined until all grades are in, it will not be any more strict than the following “straight” scale:

A = 90-100%, B = 80-89%, C = 70-79%, D = 60-69%, F = 0-59%

(with pluses and minuses assigned to scores towards the top and bottom of these ranges respectively). The following weights will be given to the various instruments of evaluation:

Homework/Labs 15%           Exams 54%
Participation 3% Final 28%
For the dates of exams, please consult the
course calendar.

Homework will be assigned on a daily basis and usually collected a couple times per week. We will try, in general, to have it marked by the next class period, at which time I will place it in a folder marked “graded homework” in the box outside my office where you may pick it up at your convenience. There is a corresponding “new homework” folder, in which you may place homework that is to be collected that day. I consider it late if it has already been collected by the grader by the time you place it in the folder, so the safest thing is to hand it in at the end of class. (Don't ask me what time the grader comes, for I do not ask the grader to hold to a set time!) Homework that is late may receive only 75% of the score it would have received otherwise.

Your participation grade will be determined at my discretion. You can easily earn the full credit with regular attendance, demonstrating your curiosity with questions (either on topics being discussed in class or in the text), contributions made to the email list, taking an active role in a regularly-meeting study group, etc. It is only in noting an obvious lack of these, your using class time to complete homework, a lack of respectful behavior in class on your behalf, or some other type of problematic activity (if in this last category then I will speak with you about it) that I will begin to deduct from your participation grade.

Exams should be taken in class on the dates scheduled. I do not generally offer make-up, alternate or late exams. Instead, if you miss one exam (for any reason) or if your final exam grade is better than that of your worst in-class exam, then your final exam grade will be substituted for that exam (in which case the final counts as roughly 46% of your grade).


Reasonable academic accomodations will be made for individuals with documented disabilities. Any student who this concerns should notify one of the coordinators for services for students with disabilities in the Center for Student Success, Spoelhof College Center 360. That student should also meet with me during the first two weeks of the semester to discuss academic accomodations.


The type of concentration required for mathematics/statistics calls for a distraction-free environment. Please do your part to make the classroom one conducive for learning by arriving on time, not working on homework assignments during class, refraining from frivolous talk, and actively participating in in-class discussions/activities.

Please speak with me about problems or issues as they arise during the semester. I am still growing as a teacher, and if you have concerns, it is simply a matter of “building one another up” that you should raise them in an appropriate moment, preferably while adjustments may still be made that affect your class.

This page maintained by: Thomas L. Scofield
Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Calvin College

Last Modified: Monday, 26-Jul-2004 13:11:06 EDT