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A Fishy Lesson About Statistics

Story by
Nancy Joseph
By tagging fish in their school's pond, fourth graders learned about statistical methods.

By tagging fish in their school's pond, fourth graders learned about statistical methods. Media credit: Mary Levin

June Morita, UW senior lecturer in statistics and management science, wanted to teach elementary school students about statistics. She got their feet wet-literally-by having them catch fish from their school's fish pond.

The project involved third and fourth graders at Alternative Elementary II (AE2) at Decatur School. The students caught and tagged 25 fish and returned them to the pond. Then they caught a second sample group, noting the proportion of tagged fish.

"We were using a statistically based method, the Mark-Recapture method, for estimating the number of fish in a wildlife population," explains Morita. "In this case, the population was the fish in the pond. It was a real investigation--not only were we tagging real fish, but we really did not know how many fish were in the pond." The conclusion: more than 100 fish call AE2's pond home.

Morita has presented a similar fish-tagging lesson at Garfield High School and has done hands-on lessons at several other area schools.