Statistics - Banish the boredom

1st June 2012 at 01:00

What it's all about

Is there a more monotonous exercise for a pupil than calculating some summary statistic of a set of lifeless data lying flat in the pages of a textbook? If treated with some imagination, however, the introduction of statistical concepts and measures can provide some entertaining lessons, writes Owen Elton.

You could, for example, get pupils to perform an experiment in class. One activity suggested to me years ago, which I have used several times, involves asking them to stand behind their desks and hold their breath for as long as possible. It is almost inevitable that, after about 10 seconds, one pupil will no longer be able to contain him or herself and will start giggling. In turn, a bunch of satellite gigglers will emerge. This is brilliant news, since you will be able to ask why the modal time is much lower than the other two averages. Every link that a pupil can forge between the statistics and their own experience is precious.

A second idea that works well is to use data from sports fixtures in which pupils have played. I show various graphics from cricket matches I have umpired and ask the class what they can deduce about the match's progress, conclusion and star players. They explore the contrasting details they can glean from a Worm (a comparative cumulative frequency diagram) and a Manhattan (a bar chart summarising each over's action). Again, they feel some ownership of the material; the numbers reveal information about something with which they are personally familiar and this reinforces the narrative nature of statistics.

What else?

Try XPMath's online game, Plinko, for a practical lesson on probability. Analyse statistics about global issues with real-life data graphs from Nicholas Wilson.

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