My group of students this year seems game for just about anything. I feel like I have a willing band of mathematicians at my fingertips- or if not yet full fledged mathematicians, they are willing to listen and see where I'm going with all this.
So today I decided to jump into box and whisker plots. I have struggled with the entire statistics unit in the past few years. Stats. Blah. All math books turn it into lists of meaningless numbers or silly "real world" situations. I've struggled to make it mean something ANYTHING to all of us in the room. Which seems crazy, because stats should be the most applicable, the most real world thing I teach them all year.
But slowly, things have been shifting. A few good lessons here, a few "Ah ha!" moments for me, and some extra reading and research has all helped to lend new life to this unit. Lately, my book of choice has been Edward Tufte and I'm suddenly seeing the light as to why we graph anything at all EVER. So anyway, I'm starting to find my own passion for statistics and graphical representations.
Yesterday I did something I don't love to do- I taught something without much context. I threw five number summaries at my students, just wanting to get the vocab, the concept, and the process to the kids. I asked them to take a leap of faith, to trust that this moving around of numbers would lead us somewhere.
So today, we started to connect. We talked about summaries they write in Language Arts, how it is useful to take a large article and summarize it down to the main ideas. We talked about why a five number summary might be more useful than a list of data. We made vocabulary connections.
Then we calculated our age in months. Students wrote it on index cards and we marched outside. At this point, I started to get nervous. I mean, I could do this with a class of maybe 25 students, but how would I keep a line of 35 bodies engaged and listening? But, I decided, what's teaching without some adventure? I refuse to use class size as an excuse not to provide the very best for students.
We lined up from least to greatest. We figured out the student in the middle and he got to hold the "Median" card. Students found the quartiles and the max and min and each person in the five number summary held a card. With students lined up, toes on the edge of the sidewalk, I marked the quartiles and medians with yard sticks. The lower and upper 25% got a piece of yarn to hold (becoming the whisker) The middle quartiles crowded between the yardsticks. Suddenly, we were a box and whisker plot. And for the first time ever, I had students quickly seeing that our data was split into 25% chunks. That the range of the chunks might change, but that each quartile held 25% of the classmates. It was fun, it was visual, it was tactile. And somehow, it worked.
We trouped back inside to get our thoughts on paper. We drew what we had made and talked about what someone could learn about our class from looking at our visuals. Why it might be more useful than a list of numbers. And I think, just maybe, students really understood- not just wrote notes and memorized some vocab- but really understood, in their guts, the what and why of this particular statistical representation.
So tomorrow- how in the WORLD do I top that?