How does a good night’s sleep affect your overall health? Is there a connection between income and religion? Are teenagers who have lost a parent more likely to use marijuana?

Morgan Park Academy juniors and seniors in AP Statistics are using programming and statistical analysis to examine challenging social questions like these as they launch a semester-long project.

Students are using the industry-leading SAS software suite to dig into data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, a nationally representative study that has followed more than 20,000 people from adolescence to adulthood over the past 25 years.

“The study of statistics becomes much more fun and meaningful when students can use their knowledge to do original research with real data,” teacher Diane Nead said. “In this case, the students are acting like professional data analysts, looking at a topic that interests them.”


Each student chose a pair of social variables and will build a statistical analysis to look for connections.

What, if any, correlation exists between:

  • household income and religious preference?
  • household income and education level?
  • sleeping soundly and one’s general health?
  • income level and depression?
  • marijuana use and the death of the parent?
  • insomnia and snoring?
  • country of origin and opinions about birth control?

This part of the AP Statistics curriculum is drawn from Passion-Driven Statistics, which was created by Dr. Lisa Dierker of Wesleyan University with a grant from the National Science Foundation.

The goal is to teach students statistics within the framework of an original study of their own choosing:

“The curriculum supports students to work with existing data covering psychology, health, business, government, education, environmental science, biology and more … to pose questions of interest to you and then use statistical software to turn raw data into useful information.

“Statistical analysis is arguably the most salient point of intersection among diverse disciplines, yet developing analytic skills is often viewed as an obstacle rather than an opportunity to pursue your own interests and to answer questions that you feel passionately about.

“This is why we created Passion-Driven Statistics. It is statistics in the service of your own research – in the service of your passion. It is a multidisciplinary, project-based curriculum that supports students in conducting original research, asking original questions, and communicating methods and results using the language of statistics.”