Instead of that, I gave each tuthree people a sheet with four questions which required an answer although nobody in the world knows accurately what the true answer is. Here we go:
- Q1a How many trees are there in Ireland?
- Q1b If we had a country wide Electric Picnic, could we invite and accommodate everyone on the planet?
- Q2 How many red blood cells do you have?
- Q3 If this 120-seat classroom was in downtown Houston and filled to the brim, how many tonnes water would it contain?
Several students came up with an answer of 709 million trees in Ireland. All that indicated was that they had given up the ould thinking and googled an answer from RTE. That is a bad estimate for two reasons a) it is plagiarism on which we are not big at The Institute b) it is spuriously accurate: writing 709 means you are confident that it is not 707 million or 715 millon, 700, though vaguer, is better because it doesn't imply an unevidenced confidence. Now I have a mission: never allow students to accept facts-from-the-web without at least doing an order-of-magnitude analysis [see voluminous nonsense prev] to see it is on target rather that off the wall. It will be a task: at the moment many struggle with the fact that there are a million sq.m. in one sq.km.
They were at all sea on the Houston problem above. First many were confused by the reference to the recent flooding of USA's fourth largest city; the event didn't seem to have bobbed across their section of the Snapchatverse. But on to the problem itself. The room in which we were working is 7m x 11m x 3m. There is space accordingly for 231 cu.m. of water. That's a silly answer unless we had used a tape-measure to generate the fundamental LxWxH dimensions, so we could call it 200-250 tonnes. Or 100-500 tonnes if you're hazy about the size of a metre. I got 20 answers, ranging from 8 tonnes to 378,000 tonnes; only 7 of which were within the 'possible' range. hmmmm.