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Topic: ABS: Getting to Know the Class
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Posts: 144
Registered: 12/6/04
ABS: Getting to Know the Class
Posted: Dec 28, 1996 8:12 AM
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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

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:

Midpoint Count
0 1 *
1 0
2 0
3 3 ***
4 1 *
5 3 ***
6 5 *****
7 4 ****
8 2 **
9 2 **

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

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