Musical Spearman’s Rank

Thought I’d blog about the lesson I use to teach Spearman’s Rank after a bit of interest on Twitter.  I’m about to use this lesson with top set Y11 who are studying for GCSE Higher Statistics.  The basis of the lesson is to see how well pupil’s musical taste is correlated with the Great British Public’s taste and this is how it goes…

I make a CD with a 30 second clip of a track from each of the Top 10 albums from the previous year in the UK.  I get the information on total sales from Wikipedia and it doesn’t take long to put the tracks into a playlist in iTunes, cut the tracks to 30 seconds and burn them to a CD. (I suppose this is made easier by my very extensive music collection) As a starter pupils complete a simple music quiz where they have to name the track and the artist.  I find this is a nice hook for the lesson and gets pupils involved and enthusiastic.  Then I ask the pupils to rank the songs in order of preference from 1 to 10.  This, alongside the actual sales ranking,  is the data we use as an example of calulating Spearman’s Rank Correlation Coefficient.  This has the added benefit that each pupil is using different data for their example and therefore cannot rely on whoever is sat next to them!

I’ve used this lesson quite a lot over my teaching career and should give credit to our Second in Department when I was a NQT who shared the idea with me.  I’m not naming her here as I’m not sure she’d want me to but if she’s reading this she knows who she is!

As an aside I only recently learnt how easy it is to edit a clip of a track in iTunes, so just in case anyone is as unaware as I was here’s how it’s done:

1) Highlight the track in iTunes

2) Choose Get Info from the File menu

3) Choose the Options tab and then complete the Start Time and End Time boxes with the required timings.



  1. Ben Rouse · January 12, 2012

    Using the spearman’s activity with my top set year 10 it went really well. Thanks so much.

  2. daveadamson · January 26, 2013

    Thanks, I would love to use this but Spearman’s Rank is not on our SoW which I find very disappointing.

    • ideasfortheclassroom · January 26, 2013

      Ah rubbish! Teach it anyway! Enrichment 😉

      • daveadamson · January 26, 2013

        I am considering that. I think my top set Year 10 in particular would enjoy it.

  3. zjking · July 8, 2013

    I did an activity with a group of Year 10’s the other day based on Speed Dating, except we did speed friending. They had a list of 10 attributes which they rated by importance (1 being most and 10 being least). They then paired up with someone else in the class and completed Spearman’s Rank with the two sets of preferences to see how strongly suited as friends they were. It worked so well! 🙂
    This idea sounds awesome too – I’d love to give it a go next time I teach it.

  4. Pingback: Stratified Random Sampling | Mr Hagendaas Maths

Leave a Reply to ideasfortheclassroom Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s