Data Gathering Woes

Last Friday I took advantage of a teacher work day to try to formulate some cool math problems based on the law of sines. I ended up on the soccer field with a partner, a camera, a 100 ft. measuring tape, and a compass.

The compass
A somewhat helpful compass.

The value of accurate tools was revealed when I remeasured the angles multiple times with the low-quality compass and got multiple measurements. Lacking any better resources, I resorted to choosing whichever of the measurements led me to the correct calculation.

Now, I’m not fabricating the data, since the numbers I settled on were actual measurements I took. And since I know the law of sines to be reliable, using it to judge the truth of uncertain data is defensible. But… it just feels wrong somehow. Maybe I can assuage my conscience by making the judging of data part of the lesson. Or maybe I should find a compass with sighting guides.

*Interesting but irrelevant note: Despite our best intentions to create a non-right triangle, my data-gathering partner and I ended up with one angle that measured almost exactly 90° (ahem, somewhere between 88° and 95°). Subconscious determination?

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2 thoughts on “Data Gathering Woes

  1. This piece is an interesting microcosm of the pressures scientists and mathematicians must face to achieve results that meet the expectations and conventions that exist in their profession. Great read!

    1. Thanks, Keith. Gathering data (for something other than statistics) was an eye opening experience. I have new sympathy for data gatherers and users, but I also hope professional data gatherers have more expertise and greater accuracy than I do now.

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