The Professional Chicken Sexer

A day-old chick

A day-old chick (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A statistics gem to tweet about and use in math class:

“In the 1960s, one hatchery paid its sexers a penny for each correctly sexed chick and deducted 35 cents for each one they got wrong.  The best in the business can sex 1,200 chicks an hour with 98 to 99 percent accuracy.”

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything (p. 51) by Joshua Foer

What’s a chicken sexer? Never thought I’d learn about such a subject, until…well, I read Foer’s book. Here’s the rub. Male chickens are not as desirable on a chicken ranch as their female counterparts, but it takes roughly four to six weeks to identify the sex of a newly hatched chick.  This is a costly problem on a chicken ranch.

In the 1920s, veterinarians from Japan figured out a way to tell the males from the females of day-old birds. The discovery of such a method helped ranches increase their profits.  Those who graduated from the Zen-Nippon Chick Sexing School were quickly employed in the agricultural world and earned celebrity status. These so-called chicken sexers turned a handsome profit, earning as much as $500 a day, in steep contrast to the scenario above.

Shot at the Glory

“We want a shot at the glory! C’mon, give us a shot at the glory!” begged my algebra two classes this past semester.   I’ve been doing an activity I coined “A Shot at the Glory” for a couple years now when I teach our unit on probability. Initially this activity was in response to a dry question our book posed: ‘How many ways are there to fill out a ten question true/false quiz?’ I am still shocked by the immediate and robust excitement this activity generates every time I do it.  Plus, it costs me zero dollars to implement.

Here’s how A Shot at the Glory works…

1. Tell students to number their paper one to ten.  Even a scrap piece of paper will suffice. Putting it in writing is the important part.

2.  Tell students to write true or false for each number. Their sequence could be any one of the 1024 distinct permutations that are possible, which is a discussion that pops up naturally.

3.  Have students stand up next to their desks, pencils down.

4.  With the showmanship of a circus ringmaster, slowly read off each answer.  If they get one wrong, they sit down.  Otherwise they remain standing, proudly, and in the jealous awe of their peers.  This takes a few minutes if done right, akin to an American Idol results show.  I randomly alternate between “Please remain standing if you wrote…” and “Please take a seat if you put…”

When there’s a Shot at the Glory winner, it’s an adrenaline soaked moment that’s on par with landing a face card in blackjack after you’ve doubled down big on an eleven.

Observations: Since about half sit down with each answer, if one or more students get beyond the 5th “question” the class goes wild. When some lucky kid gets to #8 I’m whipping out my iPhone and shooting video since it’ll either be a glorious fairy tale ending or a tragic account of fate’s cold impartiality.

Often times March Madness falls near the time I do this activity so it is easy to draw the parallel between going from choosing 10 answers in a row correctly to choosing the 63 game winners there will be in the tournament. Hence, Perfect Bracket = Holy Grail.

If their sequence of ten does indeed match mine then they win a Golden Ticket and the class erupts.  I print out the winner a cheesy Golden Ticket that states important details of their prize.  Precious? You bet. This Golden Ticket gives its owner extra credit on the probability Show-What-You-Know (exam). Now that I’m taking a sobering look at Standards Based Grading, I’ll have to rethink the prize for winning A Shot at the Glory.

This activity had students discussing counting methods, sample spaces, probability (both experimental and theoretical) and luck.  Many wondered how “random” my sequences were, especially since some weren’t so random.  I’d have students peeking for tell-tale signs of what I was writing when I made up my sequence and wondering if it was in their best interest to keep their same sequence each time.

A Shot at the Glory takes minutes, fuels interest, and is fun. Give it a shot!

Diabolical Teacher Foot Note: Just for fun I made up my “random” sequence as I called out the question number. A student got to #10 and excitedly muttered “Please be true, please be true!” I chose false.