The Statistics of Rummage

Send by email
Cindy Beals's students survey Rummage shoppers for vital info
From the Spring 2009 Caller

By Nadine Fiedler

Catlin Gabel students are all over the Rummage Sale, but Cindy Beals’s statistics students are unique: they’re the ones with the clipboards politely asking shoppers to fill out surveys.

Cindy Beals teachingCindy and her honors math class have worked for the past five years to provide information the school needs to run a better Rummage Sale. The project was the brainchild of Rummage coordinator Lesley Sepetoski, who wanted to find out more about the demographics of the sale’s shoppers. Who’s buying what, and when? How far did people drive to get there, and is Expo a good location? What were they hoping to find? Lesley asked Cindy if she might be interested in involving students in finding the answers, and Cindy knew it would be a perfect fit for her yearlong statistics class. It would allow her and the students to apply the theory they learn, and it would give them a chance to see the messy process of statistics in the real world.

The cycle begins early in the fall, when Lesley tells them what she’d like to know. The class thinks about possible questions: how the question order makes a difference, or how slightly different wording can provoke different answers. Then they create their questionnaire.

An important aspect is learning the right way to approach Rummage shoppers so they see the students as respectful and will take the time to answer. “It’s scary for some kids to approach the shoppers, but that’s another part of the learning experience. All of them end up talking to people they wouldn’t have much chance to otherwise, and it gets them to see a different part of Rummage,” says Cindy.

When the sale arrives in late fall, each student first samples shoppers in one location for just one hour; the information from all the students shows the changes over the course of a day. Next the students all go at once, and each samples shoppers in a different department to see how that varies. The  students learn to analyze the data, and in the spring they present their finished report to Lesley and the Rummage committee.

The students’ surveys have resulted in real improvements to the sale. When it was clear from the survey that long lines were a serious problem, the committee decided to have seniors work as cashiers, speeding up the checkout process. “Having their work result in actual changes inspires them to do a thorough job so that we affect future Rummage sales,” says Cindy.

Cindy is a huge fan of the Rummage Sale, which makes this a doubly fulfilling project for her: “It’s exhilarating for me to see learning happen. And Rummage is such an amazing thing we do for so many reasons: because it provides financial aid for our students, as a service to the wider community, for getting out our name, for recycling, and for drawing the Catlin Gabel community together, including alumni. I love that I can support Rummage as a part of my job.”

Cindy was honored with a Fulbright Award to teach in Turkey in 2009-10. She says she has “insatiable wanderlust,” and took a sabbatical in 2000–01 for a trip around the world. At CGS she has led or chaperoned trips to Turkey and India, where many members of her family have lived for generations. A native of northern California, Cindy earned a BA in math from Michigan Tech and an MS from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. Before coming to Catlin Gabel in 2004, she taught at two schools in Michigan and at Philips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.






Nadine Fiedler is editor of the Caller.