A tough question

A student asked me a difficult question the other day.

I’m normally pretty confident with my subject knowledge, and am rarely stumped when quizzed out of the blue. Sometimes a tricky question from Further Maths, or a more esoteric A level problem may leave me scratching my head for a minute or two. Worst case scenario, I may need to ponder the problem for ten minutes in the calm, peace and quite of break time or lunch time, when I can focus on it without distraction, but, typically, I’ll get there in the end and give the pupil the answer they were seeking.

But not this time. As soon as the question was asked, I knew I could not give a definitive answer.

I tried flanneling and digressing, diverting and avoiding, but this Year 11 student was having none of it (perhaps a future career as a “Paxman” on Newsnight beckons?)

In the end I hand to come clean, I had to give an answer, so I did, but I still feel uneasy about it as I’m not sure I’d give the same answer today, as I did then (but I might  do.)

So what was this question that floored me?

Sir, what is your best, ever, music track?

And you can’t answer that question as it constantly changes (but if you want to know what answer I gave when my resistance crumbled, then keep reading.)

I was reminded of this exchange as I’ve just seen my Spotify data for the year.

We live in the age of Big Data and understanding this, how its used and how it shapes our lives is an important lesson for us all to learn.

Fortunately, I love data and I didn’t just stop with what Spotify told me in their glossy end of year review of me, and my listening habits.

I was able to work out that it costs me less than a penny a minute to listen to Spotify, over the year I spent about 50p an hour listening to my music through their streaming site.

Good value? I think it is, I love my music and having so much on tap makes that a price I’m happy to pay (and, as I’m on a family membership, the cost per hour for all four of us in the household is significantly less.)

But the important thing is is that I was able to calculate that cost, and then decide if it was good value for money for me. Many of your students will have received a similar review from Spotify – why not get them to calculate what it costs them (or, more likely, their parents) for each hour they use the service?  The maths is pretty simple, but the process and analysis is so important. I suspect that if I did a similar calculation for my gym membership it may not be such good value for money. Netflix – how much do a pay for each hour I watch?

Still with me? That’s probably because you want to know my “favourite track”.

Well this are my favourites based on my Spotify listening:

But how did I answer the question?

Well, the band in question – The Jam – is in the list above, but not the song.

So what is my all time favourite track? With the caveat that it changes, I can reveal it as “Thick as Thieves” by The Jam.

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