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Teaching bias without teaching bias…

on March 2, 2012

So, in the spirit of early-onset enthusiasm, here is my next post 🙂

This week, I have tried a new approach to teaching questionnaires.  I normally go with the whole ‘let’s find out about what TV programmes people like’ *yawns* and write up our results’ approach.  Not this week.

I decided to try something completely different with my Y8 top set  – I wrote a (terrible) questionnaire entitled ‘Mrs Hughes’ awesome survey’, and gave them a copy as they came into the room.  I then read out the questions, and got them to vote (hands up) for each answer, choosing the most popular answer as the one I would list on the board.

The questions were classic examples of bias, poor wording, totally nonsensical questions, and overcomplicated language.  

For example, question 1 was – Who is the best maths teacher in the whole school?  

A) Mrs Hughes (that’s me)         B) *a PE teacher’s name         C) *the Principal’s name         D) other

I went through the first 5 questions before they really started to openly criticise the questions, and at that point, I feigned surprise that they were confused by my questions – you mean my survey isn’t awesome?!?

I gave them 1 minute in pairs to talk to each other and answer the question ‘what do you think of my survey?’

At the end of the minute I dinged my little bell (like you find on old-fashioned hotel front desks – every teacher should have one!) so they would know to stop.  I got them to tell me their answers, and without even trying, I’d got them talking about bias, and basically listing all the things you shouldn’t do on a questionnaire. 😀

They then worked in their pairs on a specific question, different for each pair, to tell me what was good/bad about it, and where it could be improved.  Instead of telling me at the end of the 5 minutes (*ding!*) I got them to join up with another pair and explain their answers to each other.  The mathematical language being used was brilliant, and they were all actively involved in articulating their thought processes.

We shared ideas as a class discussion, and I held my tongue as far as possible and left them to be the leaders of their own learning on this (really really really hard!)

Next job was to discuss uses of questionnaires in real life, and I set them the challenge of finding some information from other students about their thoughts on our current BSF project (we are getting lots of new bits and refurbishing all the old bits) or the fact that we are in the process of becoming an academy.  I wanted it to be an evocative topic that might inspire some debate/controversy.

They were to write one question each, but to write two versions of the question: one fair, one biased.   This allowed me to see who really understood the concept and who didn’t.  They also had to give some thought to the data collection process – would their question be an easy one to ‘graph’ afterwards?  

After the allotted time (*ding!* – I love my bell..) I got them to join again with another pair, and this time to swap books and peer assess the others’ questions.  They had to give 2 things they liked, and 1 possible improvement (written, ideally).

At the end of the lesson, I reminded them that I hadn’t written the objectives on the board as I wanted them to work them out themselves.   They were given 1 minute to discuss what they thought the objectives were, then I asked several students to feed back.  

Here’s what they said:  

“You wanted us to learn how to write good questions.”

“You wanted us to learn to work out what questions to ask.”

“To know what bias is about and how to write fair questions.”

“To be able to plan how to collect our data.”

I then popped up my IE window on the IWB, and showed them the level 7 descriptor for HD:

‘Explore problems using statistical methods, frame questions, identify possible sources of bias and plan how to minimise it’.

I love it when that sort of risk pays off 🙂



One response to “Teaching bias without teaching bias…

  1. For the record, I also did a very similar thing with my Y7’s, who are level 3-4’s, and they were happily talking about bias by the end of the lesson, and some even chose to write their own biased question as part of their survey 🙂

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