Friday, April 8, 2011

Why make up data?

If you are using made up data in your class, I would like to ask one simple little question "WHY?".  There are massive amounts of real data available, and also many opportunities for students to create their own data. 

Made up data creates pseudo-context questions, meaningless answers, and most likely confusion.  Real-life data provides the students with the ability to develop, learn, and apply their understanding of past lessons into an actual context.  When you use real data, you show the true power of mathematics; making the unknown known.

Here is how I use to teach regressions in my Math 30 Applied Course:

 As you can see, the numbers are meaningless and create zero motivation to solve the problem.

Here is how I teach regressions currently:


This question has zero data points, more reading, and asking higher level questions.  However, students are more willing to complete the “new” way than the “old” way.  They understand why each number is created, the meaning of the answers, and it also creates motivation to solve the problem. 

After this, I used data of world hunger, population density, and standard of living.  Students were able to truly understand the problems third-world countries are facing.  The mandated outcome is “students will demonstrate an understanding of quadratic, linear and sinusoidal functions”, but my students discovered much more than that.

The discussion which was created was truly inspiring to me as a teacher. Another teacher, who was walking by my class, also entered into the discussion explaining how exponential growth applies to investing money.  If the numbers of poverty did not shock them, I also showed them pictures, some which are below.

I promote collaboration and discussion in my class, and when I turned off the photos you could have heard a pin drop. 

The challenge, I have for educators, is to use real data for their questions and even allow the students a chance of creating their own data. 

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Dave. I couldn't agree more with your identification of the need for real world data in a math class to make learning more meaningful!

    As one of my former students used to say:

    "If Johnny has 10 chocolate bars and eats 9, how many does he have left? Oh, I don't know...diabetes, maybe?"

    Thanks for showing how practical application of tough concepts can help motivate the students in your classroom.