Are you psychic? I am, and I can prove it!

Thursday 12th March 2020

Now, I hopefully have your attention. The point of this article is to try and consider how we can motivate students and promote understanding of mechanics and statistics by the use of practical and modelling situations.

So, am I psychic? Well, when preparing a presentation to introduce hypothesis testing by looking at the Zener test (used to conduct experiments for extrasensory perception), I thought I should check the online test myself. These are my results:

zener test
The results of an online Zener test to look for psychic ability. Out of 25 trials, each with 5 options giving a binomial distribution X - B(25, 0.2), I got 12 correct. The probability of this happening by chance was so low that it showed evidence of ESP.

You don’t believe me? Actually, that’s a basis for a lot of discussion:

  • What does the p in the picture stand for? What does it actually mean?
  • If discussing this with second year A level students, can they work out where the z value came from?
  • What mark would have persuaded you? Do I just need to work out the probability of getting that mark or all of the marks above that?
  • If I did a test with the whole class out of 10 what mark would persuade you? How could you prove it to me?

I believe that this type of activity, and the discussions surrounding it, can really promote the understanding of a lot of the maths syllabus, particularly mechanics and statistics. This would be a valuable activity to try with your students.

By Abigail Bown

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