We had just returned from the science fair and the "scientific method" was fresh in the students' minds. It was in this context that we introduced the following unit on data analysis, which we hoped would not only satisfy the district's elementary statistics requirement, but would also involve the students in a long-term mathematics project in a meaningful and relevant way.
Our fifth grade class was perhaps typical in many respects: a culturally diverse group of twenty-four children sharing a medium-sized classroom in an inner-city neighborhood school. On more than one occasion we had heard comments about the lack of space in our classroom, and that other classrooms in the school seemed to have more space. We thought about this, and how we might capitalize on the students' natural curiosity. We began with the following problem statement:Problem: Are the areas of classrooms in the 6th grade larger, on the average, than the areas of the 5th grade classrooms?We then asked the students to hypothesize what they thought the answer to this question might be, and to document their responses.
During the initial stages of problem development, a discussion occurred concerning the practical applications of our ultimate findings. A variety of possibilities surfaced, most notably the fact that the principal could use the information when setting up the classrooms for next year.
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