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Descriptive Statistics Project

David Gray
New England College
Author Profile
This material was originally developed by the the National Numeracy Network
as part of its collaboration with the SERC Pedagogic Service.


Unreviewed Activity submitted in preparation for the NNN Writing with Numbers Workshop

Students choose a topic to investigate that they are interested in. Through this activity, students experience the processes involved with researching a topic, namely, identifying the variable, collecting, organizing, summarizing, and analyzing a set of data as well as preparing a written report of the study.

Learning Goals

1) Recognize the difference between categorical and quantitative data types.
2) Become more aware of potential problems associated with sampling.
3) Reinforce calculation of statistical measures using their own data.
4) Interpretation of data in graphical and numerical forms.
5) Practice writing (describing and reasoning) in a quantitative setting.

Context for Use

This exercise is designed for use in an introductory statistics class to be given about the same time as the topics are presented. It could also be used in a "liberal arts" mathematics course.

Description and Teaching Materials

Students are encouraged to investigate a topic of their own choosing. They collect a sample of 20 or more observations. Students then organize their observations into a frequency distribution and a histogram. Students then calculate the mean, median, modes(s), variance, and standard deviation for their sample. Students then summarize and interpret their findings.
Student Activity Handout (Microsoft Word 45kB May12 08)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Students should have a fairly good understanding of the various components of the project, particularly frequency distributions, histograms, and calculation of statistical measures. They may have difficulty recognizing the difference between categorical and quantitative data. For this reason, I ask that they send me what they intend to do before they actually do it.


Points are awarded to the twelve items of the project in terms of computational accuracy (where applicable), presentation (description, histogram, frequency distribution), and interpretation of results and answers to the questions. I also include feedback in the form of questions the students might consider in the context of their study.

References and Resources