January 24, 2012

How Many Cookies?

I had the idea for this project though a slightly complicated sequence, but because each part is individually awesome I'm about to send you into a sentence overflowing with links.  Back in December I was listening to a Radio Lab podcast, where they featured Roman Mars who shared his podcast (99% Invisible) on Nicholas Felton.  Okay, I'll wait while you head to iTunes to subscribe to both podcasts...

Before students headed off for their 11 day winter break, I gave them this assignment (among others):

Nicholas Felton knows a lot about his life, because he keeps track of everything to write an annual report at the end of each year.  This year will be his seventh reporting on topics from how many types of nuts he ate (7) to types of transportation used (23) to iTunes songs played (16,682).  If you have a chance, check out Feltron.com for lots more statistics. 
We will be reviewing data analysis next semester, and vacation is a great time to collect data.  Ms. Cardone will be recording two things: # of cookies consumed and # of people spoken to.  It is up to you what you want to keep track of, but it needs to be some information that 1. You can keep track of with a number per day 2. You don’t mind sharing 3. Will be more interesting than all 0’s.
I was really excited going into vacation, because it was vacation (obviously), I would be eating lots of cookies and hardly talking to any people- peace and quiet!  I had no idea how many students would buy in to this part of their vacation packet, but I figured we could just share data if need be.  Upon return from break I was pleasantly surprised to discover that most students had actually tracked something!  Those that hadn't could usually come up with something from memory or looking in their phones and we had an awesome variety of topics.  The tallies ranged from sirens heard to video game stats to text messages to hugs.  

I collected all the data immediately and then a few weeks later I managed to get the laptops reserved to do our analysis.  My school is having a literacy initiative where students complete the writing process at least once a quarter in all their classes.  The prompt was "Analyze one aspect of your vacation using data" and we started 'brainstorming' by computing all the M's (mean, median, maximum etc.).  Then they began their paragraphs with a thesis statement (I spoke to relatively few people over vacation.) and supported it with evidence (Most days I only spoke to 3 people, my immediate family members).  The end results were a lot of fun to read.  It was much easier for students to analyze something they had experienced than random data; plus I got some insight into what their vacation and daily life experiences are.  Thanks to Radio Lab, 99% Invisible and Nicholas Felton for a great activity reviewing data analysis!


  1. I LOVE this activity idea. I did a linear regression activity where my students looked up data on rising tuition prices for college because they're all planning on going and that was a fun (if kind of depressing) way to get students to use math to examine issues they face in "real life", but I like this a lot as a less contrived way of getting students to examine their experiences through math.

  2. Glad you like it, we had a lot of fun! Tuition prices aren't totally contrived, but it's nice to sometimes use data that applies to them right now.