“Old Wives Tales” and Experimental Design

We just completed our Experimental Design chapter in AP Statistics. It’s one of my favorites, as there are so many opportunities for fun, meaningful activities and class discussions. The activity in this post is an adaptation of a project I first heard of through my friends at Villanova University, where it is used in Introductory Statistics courses.

Think about these “old wives’ tales” and slogans. Which ones are accepted to be true? What ones seem dubious?

  • Carrots improve vision
  • Chicken soup can cure a cold
  • Toads cause warts
  • Choosy mothers choose JIF
  • The 5-second rule

In this project, teams select a “famous saying” to explore. Using the principles of experimental design learned in AP Stats, teams design an experiment which could be use to test the claim.  Treatments must be described, randomization procedures explained, and comparisons suggested.  Should the experiment be blocked?  Will a placebo be employed?  Should blinding be used?  These all must be addressed by the team in a powerpoint submitted to describe the project.  Finally, teams peer-assess other projects, and provide feedback.  Below, you can download the project description, and the grading rubric.

Sayings project

Sayings rubric

On the day the project is assigned, I give 15 minutes for the teams to form.  Teams look over the list of topics, and are given a playing card.  Then the draft of topics begins!  The team drawing an ace gets to pick their topic first, then two, then 3….so that no topic is repeated in the class.

Teams were given about two weeks to work on the project, as we continued through the unit.  The actual creation of the project does not take that long, but we had the project simmering in the background as experimental design ideas were learned in class.

As teams turned in their files, my colleague Joel moved them to slideshare so that they could be house on his web page.  Here are two examples:

After we had all the projects, all students were assigned 3 of the projects to assess.  Using a Google Form, students provided comments, which I then sorted and gave back to the teams.  Amazing how students are usually in target when asked to grade.  And the comments provided were mostly consructive and on point.



By Bob Lochel

HS Math Teacher. Hatboro-Horsham School District, Horsham, PA.

7 replies on ““Old Wives Tales” and Experimental Design”

Wow having the kids use critical thinking skills and mathematics to back up their reasoning, sounds like a win^2. What a great project! I am wondering if the students had to do a formal write up as well?

For the peer feedback, did your Google Form just include what was on your rubric and then students had to provide comments on how well they discussed blindness/placebo (as an example) or was there more to it?

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