Tag Archives: data

276. Desk Data Collection

We’ve all been there. When you do a data topic, it’s nice to use class data – it is easier to discuss/compare and generates irregularities. The tricky bit is collecting it in!

Write it in your book – how do you get everyone else’s?
Write it on paper? – someone has to process the paper
Type it in a classlist on a computer? – long queue for computer, computer out of action if teacher needs to use it
Use a voting system (Qwizdom/Socrative etc)? – good, but subject to user error
Go around the class and read it out? – someone won’t be listening!
Write it on the board? – someone won’t do it/ will put a daft number/ rub out someone else’s result

This was such a nice idea – real life data processed and interpreted by students. We need a quick, accurate data collection solution which ensures everyone contributes. All the ideas above have merit, but how to combine them?

Inspiration struck when I was trying to do this with a bubbly Y10 class – how could I tell if they all contributed to the data? How could I keep track of deliberately daft answers? How can you stop the general milling around and gossiping at the board as they descend on it?

The desks!

While your class is measuring, sketch out your desk plan on the board. Students write their result in their desk space.

(You can see below that we collected hand span data. The start and finish indicated the smallest and largest widths for listing the numbers in order.)


You can keep track of who is finished, without having to stand at the front checking who has contributed. Once the desks are full, you are done. The data collection is structured and you have time to set up the next task.

No fancy technology or processes required!

34. The Dancing Cipher

A different way to look at data and probability is to introduce letter frequency analysis.


I set pupils the task of finding out the letter frequency data for the english language. Not much of a challenge for a bright student with the internet.

However …
I then gave them four A4 sheets of symbols to decode. Literally four pages of code, with no hints except they had to determine two literary works and authors from it. They had two weeks to solve it.

In hindsight, they described it as the best homework ever. I had parents contact me to see if they had solved it correctly – not to help their child, they were in competition to see who would get it first!

How to do it
Pick a text which is freely available on the internet – it saves typing out pages of text. I chose ‘Through the Looking Glass’ by Lewis Carroll – lots of interesting words!

I found a great website which gives you the Dancing man cipher amongst others. You paste in your text and select your substitution cipher. It then encodes your text for you. I chose the Dancing Man as it was the second literary work: The Adventure of the Dancing men (A Sherlock Holmes story)

I pasted this into Word and this formed the homework.

The interesting thing about this substitution cipher is that it has 52 symbols and no spaces. It is tricky to cheat as you would have to know the name of the cipher and the full cipher was not published in the book. There is more than one variation of the code as different people have tried to fill in the missing symbols.

This task ticks all the boxes for data processing, coding, independent study and literacy. In fact several pupils came back and said they had read Conan-Doyle’s classic work as a result of a maths task.