Mathematics in the real world: World Statistics

This is another post in my series on mathematics in the real world.



Thanks to a colleague of mine, I rediscovered the Google Public Data explorer. Within 10 minutes, I had constructed the above graph, which shows adolescent fertility rate for 15 to 19 year olds, versus life expectancy, measured against (look at the colors) average income for all of the countries in the world. If you click play, you can see a happy trend; life expectancy is increasing across the world for almost all countries, and the fertility rate is also decreasing.

This type of graph also lends itself well to questions from your students. For example, they may ask why so many teenagers have babies in some countries. They may also why there is a relationship (and from the above graph, it looks like the relationship is reasonably strong), between births from teenage moms, and life expectancy. They may also ask about trend itself, and why that is happening. Further, they may ask, how strong is this relationship? They may also confuse correlation with causation, which in itself can lead to an interesting conversation.

A natural extension of an activity related to this graph would be to have students construct their own graphs, perhaps even collecting their own data. What kind of social data do you think would interest your students?


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