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'Who's the Best?' printed from http://nrich.maths.org/
Why do this problem?
This problem offers an engaging context for planning and carrying
out a data-handling activity. Many problems that students meet are
"tidy"; this activity prepares students for the messy nature of
real-world data-handling. Students will need to make decisions
about the data they need, and to search for that data.
Show the medal table from the 2008 Olympics.
"Here are the results from the 2008 Olympics. Can we conclude
from this that China and the USA have the most naturally athletic
Allow some time for students to talk about this in pairs. Then
bring the class together and collect ideas about other factors they
think should be taken into account when deciding which nations
are most naturally athletic.
Next, split the class into groups of 3 or 4 and set them the
task of developing a method for deciding which nations are most
naturally athletic. This may be spread over a couple of lessons and
homework time, as students will need to decide on the criteria they
wish to use, carry out some research, and then present their
When groups present their findings, encourage the other groups to
offer constructive feedback on the decisions they chose to make,
the evidence they chose to include in their analysis, and the parts
of the presentation they found most convincing. One way to do this
is for each group to make a short presentation with time for
comments and questions afterwards. Alternatively, groups could
prepare a poster presentation and then time could be allowed for
everyone to go round and look at each poster, writing feedback on
Does the Olympic table rank countries according to their
What other factors apart from natural athleticism might affect
a country's ranking at the Olympics?
Students could use data from previous Olympics to see the extent to
which their criteria give a constant list of most athletic nations
Some simple and quantifiable criteria that students could use
in their analysis could be population size and wealth of the
nation. It may be worth finding out some of this data in
advance in order to guide the students' searches.