Repetitive Drills (with context)

I must admit, had my students doing some drills today.  They were combing through data finding the mean, mode, median, and range of different data-sets.  It was boring, tedious work.  However, they were engaged with the process.  Some background is necessary.

About two weeks ago we spent an entire day with Hot Wheels tracks, taking measurements about how the weight of a car affects the time it takes to go down the track.  We had three cars, and tested each car with four different weights.  Each car did ten trials (for those of you counting, that is 120 trips down the Hot Wheels track).  It was fun for the first hour, setting up the track, controlling our variables and then watching the car race down.  Then, it got dull.  We transformed into robotic bodies, meticulously dropping toy cars down a toy track.  However, at the end of the day, we had a ton of data to work with and, as a colleague of mine told my students, science isn't all ham and plaques, you know.  Even after the drudgery, their was a real sense of accomplishment and ownership.

Next, we took to graphing this data and then analyzing it.  We did several hands-on lessons on what a graph is, how do I make one, and what do they tell me.  After that, we jumped into terms like mode, median, range, and mean.  We explored those, what they are used for, what they tell us, why are they useful (or not), and how do I find them.  Finally, weeks later, we got back to our original data sets and went through them finding these numbers.

Yes, it was repetitive practice, but it was rooted in a history that they appreciated and that they felt connected to.