Sunday, September 23, 2012

Nu, Numb, Numbers

I've found the perfect activity for getting through long, tedious meetings. Every time someone says out loud a number write it down. You then have some wonderful raw data to play with and do all sorts of things with. For example, if you have to attend lots of meetings on the same day like I did last Friday you can compare the numbers mentioned in each meeting. This will give you a Numerical Meeting Profile or NMP. Sometimes the meetings are dominated by small numbers while at other times they can be characterized by large numbers. Meetings can also be differentiated by the different types of numbers that are mentioned; ordinal (sequencing - third grade), cardinal (counting - sixpack) or nominal (naming - 2011) just to mention a few number types. The recorded numbers can only be those spoken and not any written on any form of presentation. This could get out of hand very quickly.

Another way of exploring the numbers is whether they are naked numbers; in other words does the speaker include the referent with the number. A naked number is one that has no referent attached such as "two-ninety nine" for a price or "six two" when referring to someone's height. This activity can be amped up considerably by pretending one is from another country, planet or occupation. For example a "two point five" would not cause any alarm if it came up in a discussion about engine size.  When discussing student GPAs, however, it can have the most dire consequences for someone.

It would be interesting to develop NMPs for different groups of people. For example, would an NMP for a group of mathematicians be different from an ensemble of historians at their monthly department meetings? What would the NMP be for a group of 20-somethings out for the night on the town?

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