Math Life

The classroom day usually starts with Math. This morning Jeremy put a question up on the SmartBoard. Two graphs displayed the same data about bread: the average price of a loaf each year for five years. On the top was a bar graph. Below was a line graph. After looking at the image for a few seconds, I realized there was something very important here. The bar graph suggested there had been a moderate price increase (the bars gradually rising to the right) while the line on the line graph zoomed upwards.

But it was the same data!

Look at the scales used on the left side of each graph. The top one starts at zero and climbs in increments of fifty cents. The bottom one starts at $1.40 and climbs in increments of ten cents. There’s a little squiggle at the bottom left to show that there’s a whole bunch of information left out: from zero all the way up to $1.40. If you don’t start at zero, the climbing line appears to rise more steeply that it actually does!

Woh … there’s a lesson about life in here, not just about Math. The kids need to get this. They need to become adults who are intelligent analysts of information. What we were all looking at on the screen was how to manipulate data – how to manipulate people. If these two graphs were about crime rates rather than bread, an opposition politician could point to the bottom one and say “See? Crime is totally out of control under this government’s watch!”

As the lesson moved on to the next question, I looked over the sea of young faces. Had they heard me? Had they seen that you can’t always believe everything you read or hear or view? I pray that the answers are “Yes”.

No future bamboozling
No unexamined equating of power with integrity
No acceptance of meanness and “othering”

And if so …

No worries about passing the torch to the next generation