Thursday, July 12, 2012

Constructing Knowledge from Soft Drinks

We know from class that the NYT Soda Ban article touches on provocative subjects. As an aspiring (math) teacher, it also provides an opportunity for a student to really see how to go beyond textbooks, beyond the vast web, to construct new knowledge. 

From a backward design standpoint, my goals are for the students are:

  1. developer their ability to attack an open problem by conducting quantitative research
  2. learn how to apply certain mathematical concepts (determined by grade level)

To reach those goals, I would like to pose an inquiry-based question in the spirit of Dan Meyer's TED talk "Math Class needs a Makeover." What is a simply stated question that can lead to meeting the goals?

Initially, I had ideas around modeling the relation between soda consumption and obesity, hoping to predict the actual impact of the ban. There are at least a couple of problems with that. For one thing, I am not sure there is adequate data for constructing such a model. The well known Nurses' Health Study shows trends, but consumption is bucketed into broad ranges (see, e.g., Journal of AMA). Secondly, I have a suspicion there is no credible evidence whatsoever showing the soda ban will have a measurable effect on consumption. Drink size evidently has no effect on beer consumption. However, this second question does not require an intensive, long term longitudinal study. So here's a simple, yet inquiry-rich question I think Dan Meyer might ask:
If enacted, how will the soda ban change the amount of soda people drink?
The teacher will provide enough guidance to ensure the students remain aligned with the goals. Where might the students go with this?

Perhaps the students track soda consumption, with and without a mock ban in place, and gather the data. Now we can brainstorm all manner of questions:
    • How do they construct a study? This requires research, perhaps interviewing a statistician who could be invited to the class. 
    • Who is studied? How long do you track them?
    • The presumption of Mayor Bloomberg is that changing the size will reduce consumption. Do people believe this? How do their beliefs before the study square with the study outcomes and their beliefs after the study? This stirs in some psychology.
    • Doing this with just one class is not a big dataset. What if we got other schools in the district to do this problem, and pooled the data? Do the results vary significantly by school? This involves community organizing. 
    • Maybe we could create a website where any school can join the study. We could provide downloadable lesson plans to motivate involvement. The merged data would be available for free download for use in classroom activities. Do the results vary according to other variables? Should we be capturing more information about the people surveyed? This involves learning how to use technology to enrich what you can do. 

1 comment:

  1. Great lesson plan, Pete! I really liked how you addressed the backward design; its utility is invaluable, and I personally have found infinitely greater clarity in my ideas for lessons simply by applying this approach. I also appreciated how you came up with potential directions your students could go in based on the question/prompt you provided. I think this is critical when using an open-ended, inquiry-based approach. We want the students to engage in higher-order thinking and to generate ideas independently, but also want to ensure they walk away with the content and concepts we intend.