Software for AP Statistics

There are two main types of software one might consider. There is software of the sort commonly used in college courses where learning a package that can be used in subsequent courses and in research is a goal (and often an item in the course catalog description). There is also software that is intended to enhance the learning of statistics. Ideally, a first course would give students experience with at least one of the usual tools of the trade and use the best tools available to enhance student learning. However, budget constraints do not always allow us to purchase every software package we might like.

Professional Statistical Packages

Some of these can be used to varying degrees for instructional purposes as well. Prices are hard to quote here as many vendors do not want commercial clients to see the huge discounts they give to academia;-) Also, the best price is often some kind of site license whose price will depend on many variables.

Data Desk

Reasonably easy to use. This is an older Mac program ported to the PC so old-time Mac users find it quite comfortable while Windows users find it puzzling at times.  For classroom use teachers usually use the student version that comes bundled with ActivStats (see below) and can also be ordered bundled with the Bock-Velleman-De Veaux AP Stats. text.  This bundle of one textbook, one piece of professional statistical software, and one piece of educational software is a real bargain.

JMP

Easy to use. This is much more visual and interactive than Minitab. Starting in about 2007 JMP became much more interested in the academic market and has offered some real bargains in site licenses.

Minitab

Easy to use. Minintab started life as a classroom adaptation of a number crunching program developed at the National Bureau of Standards. Minitab led the proliferation of computer use in the statistics classroom and it incorporates a number of features to enhance instruction and has a long history of instructional resources of which The Minitab Handbook is perhaps the best. In recent years Minitab has turned more toward the market in industry and you have to work a lot harder than you used to in order to find academic discounts and other deals. A student version exists disguised as a book by John McKenzie and Robert Goldman.

R

This is a programming language for advanced statistics and as such is not particularly easy to use. Teachers usually ask about it because they have heard that it is free. That is true, but not the only factor to be considered. One use is for use by  individual students who are programmers or planning careers where high powered statistics is required. There are also graphical user interfaces to R that make it a bit more friendly. One is called R Commander.

SAS

This is a programming language for advanced statistics and as such is not particularly easy to use. Not many AP teachers use this package and the vendor has not shown much interest in the high school market. It is listed here mainly because many teachers have heard of it. Unless you are already and expert with it and have found a way to get it into your high school, it is probably not a first choice.

SPSS

Reasonably easy to use. Not many AP teachers use this package and the vendor has not shown much interest in the high school market. It is listed here mainly because many teachers have heard of it. Unless you are already and expert with it and have found a way to get it into your high school, it is probably not a first choice.

Educational Software

Generally these do not do enough statistics to support further courses or research.

ActivStats

Easy to use.  In fact, there is nothing to learn.  Pop the CD into your computer and it teaches you everything you need to know,
including Data Desk. ActivStats is a multimedia tutorial for the entire AP course.  Some teachers
use it as an overview before a lesson while others use it for review.  There may even
be students who use this rather than read their text!-)  As a stand-alone it is about $70 in
quantities of one but it also can be ordered bundled with the popular Bock-Velleman-De Veaux
AP Stats. text for a nominal fee.  Includes Data Desk (see above).  This bundle of one textbook, one piece of professional statistical software, and one piece of educational software is a real bargain.  (You just have to plan ahead!-)  

Fathom

Easy to use.  Fathom describes itself as software for learning mathematics so it covers more of the high school curriculum than most of the software listed here.  In statistics it is especially strong with simulations.  The style is visual and interactive.  You and your students will have to learn to use it and you will need more than the documentation that comes with the software.  Many teachers like Fifty Fathoms.  Compared to ActivStats, Fathom does not try to cover the entire course but rather support specific learning activities and demonstrations.  Its advantage over ActivStats is that you can create demos or activities for your students or students can create their own simulations whereas ActivStats provides them ready-made but neither you nor your students can easily modify them nor make new ones.

Other

Excel

Excel is a step down from graphing calculators for doing statistics (though it can handle larger datasets more easily). There is not much reason to use it in AP Statistics unless your school has some broader commitment to Microsoft.

Graphing Calculators

Because graphing calculators are required on the AP exam, most classes will teach students how to use these. You could think of these as either Fathom Lite or Minitab Lite in that they crunch enough numbers for AP Statistics but little beyond that, and were originally designed for teaching statistics. However, they lack the statistical power of Minitab and the visual, dynamic interface of Fathom.