Pumphrey's Math

Patterns, everywhere

Popcorn and the Normal Distribution

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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.

Author: PumphreysMath

A British Math(s) Teacher now living in Indianapolis, USA, aiming to show my students how questions are often more important than answers. Presenter of the MathEd Out Podcast and contributor for the Guardian Teacher Network.

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