I'll start this out by admitting that I hate sig figs. Always have. I mean, I understand the importance of reporting a reasonable number of precision according to the measurement tool, but I have always found the math of sig figs to be tedious and hard to understand. Because of this, I have been searching for another way to frame the idea of uncertainty without getting into the nitty gritty of significant figures.
In the world of engineering, uncertainty is analogous to confidence. The more uncertain your measurement is, the less confident you are in that figure. When reporting dimensions and results, engineers do so using tolerances or confidence intervals, a range of numbers that they have confidence (usually in 95% or 99% sure) will capture the actual result. There is a lot that goes into the selection of these intervals, tighter ranges cost more but fail less frequently and vice versa so engineers need to find a balance. My goal with the Uncertainty Game Show was to create a scenario where students found themselves struggling with this balancing act while learning about this different framing of uncertainty, precision, and confidence.
The Game Card
The Rules of Play
Looking at the answer and point values listed on for the question:
Student A is awarded 0 points because 32 is not in the 35-45 range
Student B is awarded 2 points because 32 is in the 30-65 range and their uncertainty was 15
When all questions are read and the answers are given, students total up their scores accordingly
Below is the Google slides presentation that I used to conduct the game. This game has 8 questions. All 8 questions are posed first without any answers and then the next slides circle back with the correct answers and point values. Feel free to use this slideshow or modify with your own questions.
This was a really interesting activity that has many layers of complexity for students to think about. Some interesting takeaways from our first ever Uncertainty Game Show:
Father, Physics Teacher, Knowles Fellow, Friend, Techie, and Musician