A Statistical Truth
Or is there such a thing? Mathematics often times appears as something so objective that it cannot be refuted or argued. But underneath all the proofs and strict axiomatic systems there lies a branch of mathematics that is prone to fits of subjectivity: statistics. In the last few weeks, junior students in IB Math Higher Level have been discussing the ways in which this field of study can be used for the betterment of communities or abused to advance someone’s interests.
To this end, students had the opportunity to question misleading graphs from various leading magazines and newspapers, to challenge the validity of sources and to constructively criticize the size of samples used to arrive at conjectures or generalizations about various aspects of society. In order to ensure they had maximum involvement and understanding of this process, students were tasked with developing a questionnaire and sampling students and teachers at Bayside on categories such as: student health, academic life and personal interests and hobbies. As preparation for this work, they also attended a live videoconference with Dr. Matt Myers, an expert in the field of mathematics, who explained the importance of proofs as a means to justify the validity of an argument.
In doing this contextual task, student interests ranged from understanding sleeping patterns of their peers to determining personal hygiene habits and amount of time devoted to such activities as social networking, homework, practicing sports and musical instruments, and watching television. One telling statistic indicated that at least 60% of Bayside students spend 1 to 2 hours a day practicing a musical instrument, a strong indicator of the importance that music plays in their lives. Recent proof of this was the high involvement of students in the Rockfest event organized by HS STUCO.
When the project was completed, students came to an understanding of the importance of asking valid questions, which are necessary in order to obtain data that can be properly used to make recommendations or to enact positive change. As JiYun Roh eloquently put it: “it’s tough to collect data, but if done right, it can be used to make a difference.”
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