Excel, dice and bar charts

Mar 03, 2006

Miles Berry

Year 5 and I have been exploring ways of presenting data, which is always a topic I find something of a challenge, as there’s not a huge sense of progression year on year – most of them get bar charts back in reception, so what do you do for the next six years?

This time round, rather than lots of surveys, we’ve been exploring randomness and the sorts of numbers different combinations of dice will generate. This works pretty well with pencil and paper, although tallying is surprisingly error prone. It’s lovely to see the degree of surprise when some of them realize for the first time that with two dice some totals come up much more than others

Heading through to the computer room though puts a very different perspective on things, and once they get the hang of how to write a formula for excel to simulate a particular type of die, there’s no stopping them. And of course with judicious use of COUNTIF it’s not too much trouble to generate a frequency table and then a bar chart.

Now, with instant recalculation, it’s easy for them to see the general patterns and exceptions, and form some intuitive grasp of probabilitiy distributions and what randomness means.

The best bit though is extending the simualtion from 60 rolls to 6000, and getting an instant bar chart of the results – again, at least some intuitive feel for long run distributions, which would have been mind numbingly horrible without a computer.