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Remembering Mean, Median and Mode

Lesson Plans > Mathematics > Statistics

Remembering Mean, Median and Mode

Yesterday I was working with a student who was reviewing concepts in preparation for taking the SATs next month. We were working some problems and ran accross some statistical terms that he knew he had heard before, but couldn't remember them all. They were: mean, median and mode. For each of these words, I have a simple memory device I share with students to help them remember the meaning.



I have a t-shirt, which I will, occasionally, wear to school, which makes use of the word mean. It's a t-shirt designed for math teachers, and it says: "Math teacher's aren't MEAN, they're above average." This t-shirt is a perfect reminder to students that a mean is an average. (The link shown above is for the women's t-shirt; click on the image to the right for the male t-shirt.)


This one is as simple as asking students where they've heard the word "median" outside of math class. The typical answer has to do with roads. If you're on a divided highway, the "median" is the reserved area (often grassy) between the sets of lanes going in opposite directions. In other words, the MEDIAN is in the MIDDLE of the road. So in statistics, the median is the number that's in the middle of the list.


This is the one students are most likely to forget, because the word "mode" doesn't have any helpful connotations in their minds. So I give them the following: Have you ever had pie a-la-mode? It's pie with ice cream. Do you know what that means in French? It means "stylish pie" - that's right, "mode" is the French word for "stylish" or "fashionable." If something is "stylish" that means it's POPULAR. And that's what "mode" means: it's the POPULAR number in the list. So if you have the list 1, 2, 2, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5, 6, which number is the stylish, or popular number? Obviously, it's the two, because there are more twos than anything else. The 2 is the most popular number in the list, so it's the mode. When I told this to my student yesterday, his response was, "Well, I'm certainly going to remember that now!" What makes this stick in students' minds is the phrase "stylish pie," for "pie a la mode" - most of them have not heard that linguistic tidbit, and the novelty helps them remember.

Lesson by Mr. Twitchell

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