The Wisdom of the Crowd

Inspired by this segment of the BBC’s series, The Code, I recently tried replicating the jelly bean experiment during my school’s science fair.


I filled an old pickle jar with jelly beans and put it on display as students, teachers and parents explored the science fair. All science fair visitors were invited to estimate the number of jelly beans in the jar for a chance to win all the jelly beans. Meanwhile, I collected the estimates to determine whether the average estimate approached the actual number as more and more people participated.

In order to streamline the data collection, I had students enter their estimate in a google form. The estimates were automatically collected in a spreadsheet that I could analyze. It only took a few minutes to graph the results:

Jelly Bean Graph

The display was a popular exhibit at the science fair and appealed to both elementary and secondary students, as well as parent visitors. As it turned out, the three best estimates all came from elementary students. I just presented the results at the elementary school assembly and it was a big hit. It was great to be able to present scientific evidence that two heads (or many heads) are better than one!

Would you like to give this a try at your school? Here’s a sample Google Form that you can use to get started.

Making “not knowing” useful

I recently came across this quote from Erica McWilliam’s 2008 article entitled, Unlearning how to teach.

Our highest educational achievers may well be aligned with their teachers in knowing what to do if and when they have the script. But as indicated earlier, this sort of certain and tidy knowing is out of alignment with a scriptless and fluid social world. Our best learners will be those who can make ‘not knowing’ useful, who do not need the blue- print, the template, the map, to make a new kind of sense.

What does it say about our current approach to teaching and assessment if our highest-achieving  students are not equipped for the future?

How do we teach our students to thrive in unfamiliar situations?

Some ideas that spring to my mind are…

  • making sure that students practice transferring knowledge and skills into new situations (I’ve written about this here and here).
  • making sure that assessment is more about monitoring progress than measuring performance (I’ve written about this here and here).

What ideas come to your mind?

The Complexities of Graphing

I spend a lot of time thinking (and writing) about incorporating inquiry into my math classes. I often classify inquiry in math class into two different categories: math by inquiry and math for inquiry.line-chart-152153_960_720

Graphing is a great way for students to use their math skills for inquiry. From Kindergarten students using pictographs to visualize trends in the weather to humanities students analyzing government spending, graphing allows students to visualize relationships, make comparisons and formulate hypothesis in a wide range of fields.

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Progress vs. Performance

I am increasingly aware of the distinction between progress and performance when it comes to assessment. While assessment is about evaluating a students performance in relation to a specific set of standards, I think it is important that teachers, students and parents focus more on the progress that they demonstrate through assessment.


When we focus on performance, students can be afraid to show their work for fear that it won’t meet expectations but when we focus on progress, all student work is an opportunity to improve and demonstrate growth.

When we focus on performance, students are extrinsically motivated by grades but when we focus on progress, students develop intrinsic motivation.

When we focus on performance, we measure all students from the same starting point, but when we focus on progress, student growth is measured from each individual’s starting point.

When we focus on performance, we are tempted to lower standards so that all students can feel successful, but when we focus on progress, we are more likely to raise the standards, so that all students can continue to improve.