ABS "Getting to Know the Class" activity (_Student Guide_, p.3):
I've used an opening-class survey for the past year or two, and keep refining it. Students seem to enjoy it, especially if at least some of the results are examined right away.
Scheaffer, Gnanadesikan, Watkins, & Witmer (SGWW) suggest questions for such a survey in the ABS _Instructor Resources_, p.8; but it is clear that they think teachers should adapt the survey to their own circumstances.
Of the questions they suggest, the one I have used most often is "Choose a random number in the range 1 to 20"--except that I usually restrict the range to 0 to 9. Even then you are likely to be able to use the results to say to your students (for the first of several times) "You cannot expect yourself to behave randomly!"
The last time I did this, I got the following results:
Other than the single 0, this seems pretty typical: there's a pronounced tendency to avoid 0, 1, and perhaps 9, probably because they don't seem "random". Try it!
Results of the SGWW question about pocket change surprised me: I had no idea how many people carry no coins!
I have twice included the following question in my opening survey (which I picked up in a workshop conducted by two of the authors): "Do you tend to agree with, or to disagree with the following statement: WCSU should forbid the use of SGA (Student Government Association) funds to pay for controversial speakers whose appearance on campus might incite violence." The idea is to distribute this form of the question on half of the surveys, and to replace the word "forbid" with "not allow" on the other half of them. The question is expected to produce different results, depending on the wording of the question. Kids need to understand that some surveys try to manipulate results by using such "wording effects". But results in my classes have not been clear-cut. I'm inclined to build the question on a more controversial issue next time--say, forbid / not allow free needle exchanges for heroin users, or forbid / not allow free distribution of condoms to college students, or ...
The question I've used that produced the greatest interest is this one: "Estimate the number of pairs of shoes you own." Looking at the results by sex usually gets a few laughs, and I've never observed anyone who was offended by the question.
============================================== Bruce King Department of Mathematics and Computer Science Western Connecticut State University 181 White Street Danbury, CT 06810 (firstname.lastname@example.org)