Engage Students in Annual Statistics Contest

Problem-solving is the main goal of math instruction. According to the Common Core Standards in mathematics, students from kindergarten through high school must understand statistics and graphing to various degrees. As teachers, we know that students learn best when they are directly involved in hands-on activities. One of the best ways I’ve found to connect students to the world of graphing and statistics is having them participate in the American Statistical Association’s (ASA) annual poster and project contest.


In 1967 ASA and NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) formed a joint committee to advance the probability and statistics curriculum in kindergarten through 12th grades. They initiated a statistical project competition (grades 4 – 12) in 1987 and added a poster competition (grades K – 12) in 1990. They based the program on one that Japan had put into place in 1955.


Students spend time collecting, organizing, summarizing and interpreting data. Posters must be postmarked by April 1st each year, and projects by June 1st. Students compete – alone or with partners – in grade-level groupings: K-3; 4-6; 7-9; 10-12. Specific requirements for each level and category can be found at the ASA website. My seventh-grade students participated in the poster contest. They were responsible for presenting 2 or more graphics to summarize their data. A written report is required for all projects. Our school district held its own local contest and chose entrants to be sent to the national competition. Share the 2011’s poster and project winners with your students beforehand to give them a general idea of what is to come.


I provided a rubric of expectations, so students understood them ahead of time. It’s important to establish a timeline of due dates for items such as submission of research question, data collection, poster sketch and finished product. Remind students that all collected information should be kept. The most challenging part of the process for students seemed to be choosing an appropriate question, one that lent itself to statistical reasoning. At the seventh-grade level, I wasn’t looking for categorical responses, such as “What is your favorite band?” I told students if they could’ve done the activity in second or third grade, it probably wasn’t a good topic choice. I also emphasized the fact that data they collected on their own was more favorable than data they gathered from the internet or other sources.


Posters are judged in 4 categories. Overall impact – eye-catching and draws the viewer into the graphs; clarity – can stand alone, conclusions are obvious; appropriateness – graphs apply to the data; creativity. Judges’ tips can be found at the ASA site.


Prizes are given for 1st, 2nd and 3rd places and honorable mention in each grade level group. Rewards include ribbons, plaques for the participant and school, certificates, and cash rewards. A graphing calculator, compliments of Texas Instruments, is typically given to first-place winners and their advisors.

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image credit: Karen LoBello

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