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P1-23: Data in Search of a Context: An Icebreaker Activity

By Alex White, Amanda Walker, and Layla Guyot (Texas State University)


Context is a key component to statistical reasoning. As opposed to mathematics where context may obscure structure, during data analysis we hope context will provide meaning (Cobb & Moore, 1997). However, students may have difficulty managing the interplay between data analysis and the context. In this poster, we present an icebreaker activity that can be used as an introduction to statistics at any level. In our undergraduate classes, we use this activity on the first day to give students a chance to learn each other’s names and ease their way into the study of statistics. In the activity, each student gets a secret context question taped on their back without seeing it. Students are collecting data by answering each other secret questions. The questions are chosen so that they introduce different types of variation such as: how many brothers and sisters do you have? How much did you pay for your last haircut? Students create two graphs to represent the data they collected from other students about their question. No directions are given for the first graph while for the second graph students are required to make a dotplot which is introduced as a part of the activity. Students explore what clues the data may give about the context it came from. Students compare their graphs to help reveal the contexts and in the process learn about what information is provided by the data and what information is provided by the context. Concepts such as properties of a distribution and graphical representation that are briefly discussed during the icebreaker activity can then be further developed in later classes throughout the semester.