24 March 2007

Spaghetti Statistics

Getting Year 9 students engaged in Mathematics can be a challenge!

This year the first unit was statistics and we began the year with an experiment involving spaghetti and half-inch nuts. (Thanks to Matt Skoss and the AAMT mailing list. See below.)

The class was broken into groups and each team was given spaghetti, nuts and a set of counters in their own colour.

The instructions were:

Make a gap of 15 cm between two desks. Stretch a piece of spaghetti across the gap, and hang a plastic cup underneath using two large paperclips. Add half-inch nuts into the cup until the spaghetti breaks.

Place a coloured counter on the cardboard graph at the front of the room to represent the number of nuts needed to break the spaghetti. Repeat the process with 2, 3 and 4 pieces of spaghetti.

To add interest, some students were still and video photographers for the event and the results were shown on the interactive whiteboard in the following lesson.

The one-minute video is on YouTube.

The data was analysed by each group and then as a class collection with the opportunity to discuss possible reasons for data variability, measures of central tendency, spreadsheet analysis of data and graphical representation of statistics.

The students seemed to enjoy it and the activity was a positive start with a new group. The use of the interactive whiteboard has been a real bonus this year but more about that later.

aamt-l is fantastic. The mailing list of the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers allows sharing of ideas and questions on any aspect of teaching Maths.

As Ray Peck says,
The AAMT list is a brilliant resource for Australian teachers - it enables teachers young and old to tap into a wealth of knowledge and experience and receive instantaneous feedback - not just from within all Australian states but also from member teachers from other countries. The depth and breadth of knowledge of those 'lurking on the list' is incredible.

At the end of January, Elizabeth Stone, put a challenge to the list. She wanted to start the term with a bang and was looking for ideas. A number of great suggestions came from list members and I particular liked the spaghetti experiment from Matt Skoss. He said it had been shared at a TI Cubed Conference. As he explained,
I have found lots of kids willing to make conjectures, displaying a wide range of mathematical skills. There is scope to bring in graphical calculators and spreadsheets to do some mathematical modelling. Lots of scope for statistics and ongoing discussion.

Thanks to Matt and Elizabeth and the AAMT list for helping me start the term with a bang!