Pumphrey's Math

Patterns, everywhere


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Popcorn and the Normal Distribution

If there is one thing Indiana is famous for, it’s corn. I saw this lesson from STatistics Education Web (STEW) on popping corn and introducing the normal distribution and loved the idea.

The basic idea is:

  • Make some popcorn in a microwave
  • Have students tally the popping count in 5 second intervals and record the frequencies
  • Have some students mark where they think certain points on the normal distribution point were reached.
  • Discuss the results

What went well:

  • All students were engaged the whole time
  • It certainly gave a sense of why the curve had a bell shape, thinking about and discussing not only direction of slope, but whether the slope was increasing or decreasing as time went by. I think this will really help with students’ understanding.
  • We got to eat some yummy popcorn

Even better if:

  • This would be great as the first lesson to introduce the normal distribution. We had already discussed the shape and real world example so some of the impact was lost
  • I would like to make more of predictions and pre experiment ideas next time.
  • There needs to be more extension questions that link to other distributions and different shapes to contrast and compare
  • Check with the schools facilities before using the microwave. Ours blew a fuse on the second run through.
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