Magic in Stats Today

I’ve been feeling grumpy about my AP students lately and I was determined to try and have a serious talk with them about daily diligence and about taking advantage of resources. I also wanted to make sure that I had something positive to do today. So, I tried an experiment that I had read about in the past.

I had read in a couple of places about a stat professor who does an eye opening experiment with her students. I tried it out today and it worked pretty well. I have 20 students in one section and 17 in the other. In each class I formatted a sheet with 93 numbered blank spaces (just how many fit in three columns) and I had 10 pennies in my hand (9 for the smaller class.) I gave them the following instructions:

1) I am going to leave the room for a few minutes. Come and get me when you are done with the following task

2) Randomly distribute the pennies to half the class

3) Those with pennies – toss the penny and record the results until you fill the sheet

4) Those without pennies – imagine you have one and write down the results of your imaginary tosses


When I returned I browsed through the sheets turned in. I was looking for sheets with a few long runs of the same result. I know that in 93 tosses, you are bound to have a couple of runs of 5 or 6 repeats. With the kids that did not have a real penny, I anticipated only runs of three or four at most. In my first class I encountered a student who used his calculator and the result fooled me into thinking he had a penny. Another student who was penniless had a run of seven and fooled me. I did, however, correctly identify three of them. In my second class I was more explicit in my directions about pennies or none (no technology!) and I was five for five in predicting. The students were impressed and the activity resulted in a lively discussion about randomness and unlikely events.

Later tonight, at the dining hall there was an impromptu loud and rowdy round of Happy Birthday for one of our boarding students. 

All in all, a pretty good day.

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