This year we started a CSE course in Statistics, and for the first term we rolled dice, cut string, distributed questionnaires in school and carried out many other experiments. One recent survey asked a sample of girls to pick a number from 1 to 9, and 22 % of the 300 questioned replied '7'.
The statistics group was unhappy about this result - "Our sample comes from girls aged 14 to 17" some of them said, and they decided that they would like to ask the same question to "other sorts of people".
This provided an excellent opportunity for the group's first out-of-school work. All that was needed was one simple question - "choose a number from 1 to 9" - no forms, no fuss, but plenty of good experience in planning where to go, and when, and how to do it. There could be 9 or more different replies, so some work on tabulation and display would be possible afterwards.
The headteacher gave permission and the day was fixed. Clipboards were clipped, pencils were sharpened and then it poured with rain! However, we assembled in school as planned and for a while the weather seemed to be improving. The girls were so keen that it was decided to go ahead.
Here are some quotes from the work done by the girls on their return to school:
"People were in a hurry because of the rain; they were rushing and in a grumpy mood."
"Rain makes people rude..."
"The rain soaked my clipboard and made writing difficult." "When they saw us they were frightened."
"One woman told us we should be in school and not wasting our time asking silly questions."
"I met a deaf man and had to shout."
"Some French people could not understand us."
"Two old-age pensioners wanted to chat and 1 wanted to get on with my survey."
"Men were nicer because they did not have to do the shopping."
"Men did not mind getting wet."
"Men were more co-operative than women because we were girls..."
Well of course, 7 was again the most frequent choice (31 % in a sample of 680), and the girls will always remember how popular this number is. But much more than that, they are likely to have a greater understanding of the difficulties in obtaining statistical information and of the reaction of people to "being counted". The pupils were quite surprised; they did not anticipate the problems they encountered and it is going to be very interesting to see how they approach their next "real-life" survey.
In the teaching of statistics it is so tempting to stay in the classroom
and to rely on "convenient" data from a text-book. If you do this,
the pupils will never know the joys of collecting information in the rain
from grumpy deaf Frenchmen who are old age pensioners!
St. Helier Girls' School
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