The authors’ experiences with a new teaching approach in an introductory statistics course involving some 1200 first year students in South Africa form the context for the development of the ideas in this paper. The paper focuses on the teaching of statistics within a spreadsheet environment whereby students are, inter alia, required to master the basics of MS Excel to perform statistical calculations. This approach has the advantages of developing the students’ ability to work with data whilst also building their understanding of the algebraic relationships between elements embedded in the spreadsheet formulae which they use. The authors advocate a two-stage approach in which statistical understanding is built by initially empowering students to use simple spreadsheet operations, followed up by the use of more sophisticated simulation tools in a Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) programming environment. They demonstrate the use of a classroom experiment aimed at exploring the statistical distributions of a number of pieces of information generated by the students. Teaching sessions are then built around a suite of MS Excel VBA-based simulations which demonstrate the concept of random variation as well as show how statistical tools can be used to explore the concept of uncertainty.

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