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Flying High at the Howard County STEM Festival

1 August 2013 61 views No Comment
Kids drop helicopters from the third floor of Howard County Community College.

Kids drop helicopters from the third floor of Howard County Community College.

Helicopters drop to the floor below.

Helicopters drop to the floor below.

A boy records his flight time.

A boy records his flight time.

Data from the experiment

Data from the experiment

Howard County held its first Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Festival June 9 at Howard County Community College, half-way between Washington, DC, and Baltimore. What motivated four members of the Washington Statistical Society (WSS) to participate? John Scott of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, John Tillinghast of the U.S. Census Bureau, Mark Otto of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Sylvia Tan of Research Triangle Institute have helped with past WSS quantitative literacy projects. They all enjoy sharing their interests in science and math, especially when engaging young people.

Even though they were relegated to the third floor, they used their location to their advantage. Rebecca Nichols, ASA director of education, suggested a simple helicopter experiment—a hands-on demonstration that showed what statisticians do is more effective than complicated, but dizzying, displays.

The kids flew helicopters of different propeller lengths and recorded which stayed aloft the longest. The budding statisticians were much more excited to launch the whirly papers down the three flights of the atrium, and they attracted more attention down on the main floor. While Tan and Tillinghast took flight times on their cell phone stop watches and collected the copters, Scott downloaded R onto a college computer in the lobby, made histograms, and did a two-sample t-test. Kids who came early even came back to see how the experiment turned out.

Otto missed most of the fun, giving two career talks on seasonally adjusted economic numbers at the Census Bureau and how to survey ducks and bald eagles at the Fish and Wildlife Service. He pointed out that statisticians ranked 20th out of 200 in career satisfaction for 2013, but they needed statisticians to do the survey in the first place.

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