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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Utilizing Dynamic and Embodied Visualization to Facilitate Understanding of Normal Probability Distributions


Teachers often use drawings of the normal distribution to support explanations of related statistical concepts, assuming that the normal curve provides a common language for such discussions. However, we find that students may not understand the basic features of the normal curve. In Study 1, we showed that students who already have studied the normal distribution in a college-level class do not understand basic concepts associated with it. Then, in Study 2, we investigated whether a brief instructional, narrated video could improve students’ understanding of the normal probability distribution. Specifically, we compared three instructional formats: static slides, a video recording of a hand physically drawing those plots, and a screen recording of the hand-drawing. Despite the brevity of the intervention, we found significant improvements in students’ understanding of the normal probability distribution and related probability concepts. The findings are discussed in relation to the dynamic representation and embodied cognition literature.

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