From the Exploring Data website - http://curriculum.qed.qld.gov.au/kla/eda/ © Education Queensland, 1997
A major part of the Maths B course is the study of functions. If you choose to use real problems withreal data when teaching applications of these functions (which I hope you do) then you have tointroduce some concepts of linear and nonlinear regression that are outside of our syllabus. The maintopics are scatterplots, least squares regression, correlation, normal probability plots and residualplots.Scatterplots are simple to construct, and the least squares regression line and correlation coefficientonly need to be understood at a conceptual level. It is certainly not necessary for a student to be ableto find the equation of the line or the value of r by hand. A normal probability plot is optional thoughit is a nice application of the normal distribution and can be taught as such, while a residual plot is asimple extension to a scatterplot. The time needed to cover these topics is not great and is balancedby the richer maths course you are able to offer your students.Curve fitting, as nonlinear regression is often called, nicely integrates algebra and statistics and hasthe potential to integrate Maths B with other senior subjects, notably Physics, Chemistry and Biology.
The TI-82 graphical calculator allows students to fit a range of non-linear functions to a set of data.The data and a function can be plotted on the same axes so the user can see how well the function fitsthe data, and the calculator can give a correlation coefficient (or an r
value) which can assist indeciding if the model is appropriate. The TI-83 calculator will also produce a residual plot to informthe decision about the appropriateness of the model and to assist in looking for underlying patterns.The TI-83 also extends the choice of functions by including the logistic and sinusoidal functions.Statistics packages such as NCSS Jr and Minitab are both less powerful and more powerful thangraphical calculators. With these packages the user applies a transformation to the data to‘straighten’ it and then finds a linear regression line through the data. The gradient and y-intercept of this line are then used (with some algebra) to find the equation of a non-linear function that fits theoriginal data. Graphical calculators follow the same process with polynomial, exponential andlogarithmic functions, but carry out the process automatically.Statistics packages provide a immense amount of information about the fit of the function, far morethan the graphical calculator. NCSS Jr for example will display a number of different residual plots,each of which tells something about how the function fits the data. Statistics packages also allow theuser to work with data where there is more than one explanatory variable (called multiple regression).Note that some datasets, eg a dataset that exhibits periodic behaviour, can’t be straightened and hencecan’t be analysed with a statistics program.There are also programs designed specifically for fitting functions to data. One of these isCurveExpert. It contains over twenty-five common classes of functions (plus user-defined functions)and a specialised method of fitting a function to the data that doesn’t require the data be straightenedfirst. CurveExpert provides an r value, the standard error and a residual plot to assist the user inchoosing which function best fits the data, but doesn’t provide the range of other information givenby a statistics program. There is a danger with CurveExpert that a user will go ‘function shopping’and end up choosing a function based on the smallest r value. The screen shot below, where apolynomial of degree 13 is applied to a dataset with 15 values shows the danger in this.