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Activity: Memory experiment

Purpose | AOs | Indicators | Outcomes | Snapshot

Learning experiences | Cross curricular | Assessment | Spotlight


Conduct an experiment to determine whether listening to music affects memory.

Achievement objectives

  • S 7-1 Carry out investigations of phenomena, using the statistical inquiry cycle:
    • A – conducting experiments
    • B – evaluating the choice of data collection methods used
    • C – using relevant contextual knowledge, exploratory data analysis, and statistical inference.


  • Conducts experiments to find solutions to problems:
    • Poses investigative questions about an experimental situation.
    • Plans experiments:
      • Considers sources of variation, for example, what are the variables to be collected, how each variable will be measured.
      • Evaluates the choice of variables and measures used in the experiment.
      • Selects and uses appropriate data collection and recording methods.
    • Conducts the experiment and collects data.
    • Uses exploratory data analysis to explore features of the data:
      • Uses appropriate statistical plots and tables to explore the data and communicates relevant detail and overall distributions.
      • Uses appropriate measures to communicate features of the data.
    • Uses relevant contextual knowledge when communicating findings.

Specific learning outcomes

Students will be able to:

  • design, carry out, and report on a statistical experiment.

Diagnostic snapshot(s)

Revisit the PPDAC cycle.

  • What are the different phases of the cycle?
  • What happens in each phase?

Planned learning experiences

Posing the problem

It may be useful to start with a report or article on how music might influence memory.

For example: Effects of music on the brain

From here establish an investigative question that could be explored within the classroom context. This experiment involves students being randomly assigned to one of two treatment groups, with music and without music, and then being asked to recall a list of 20 two-digit numbers. The number of two-digit numbers recalled by the two treatment groups is compared.

Planning the experiment

Discuss with the class possible ways of doing the experiment. Focus on the variable of interest, and how people are chosen to be in the two treatment groups, and what they will actually do.

This is an experiment where they compare two independent groups. That is, where each group has a different treatment. It also includes situations where a before measurement is taken such as resting pulse rate and an after measurement is taken where Group 1 steps up 10cm and Group 2 steps up 60cm. In this case the difference in pulse rate for individuals in Group 1 and Group 2 are calculated. Note: Group 1 and Group 2 are two independent groups as they had different treatments but the data are the calculated differences. It is not expected at level 7 that students will be doing paired comparisons, that is, a before and after situation where all individuals have the same treatment or a situation where individuals have both treatments, however should teachers decide to do a paired comparison they should read the notes on this carefully see: experiments.

For example: Students are randomly assigned to 2 groups. One group is allowed to listen to music on a headphone while memorising the 20 items and the other group is not allowed to listen to music. Both groups are then shown 20 two digit numbers and allowed a short amount of time (perhaps 2 minutes) to memorise the numbers. Immediately following this, students write down as many of the numbers as they can remember.

Collecting the data

Students undertake the experiment following the class design. Data are collected and results are collated.

Analysing the data

Students analyse the results using appropriate displays and statistics.

Communicating findings in a conclusion

Students answer the investigative question with justification and communicate their findings in a report, detailing the different stages of the PPDAC cycle.

Possible adaptations to the activity

Students could also experiment with memory of short words or pictures of different objects.

Other considerations include what type of music they are listening to, how long they have been given to memorise items, gender differences, time of day, number of items to memorise.

Does practice improve memory?

Cross-curricular links

  • Science experiments

Extension/enrichment ideas

Consider blocking for gender or age (for example, repeat with a junior class)

Run the experiment twice on all students. Discuss and justify ways to conduct experiment. For example, randomly assign students to two groups, Group 1 and Group 2. Conduct experiment with Group 1 students having no music and Group 2 students listening to music while memorising numbers, words or items. Record number remembered. Repeat experiment using another set of numbers, words or items with Group 1 having the music treatment and Group 2 the no music treatment. Record number remembered. Calculate the difference in number remembered for music and no music for each individual student. Analyse the differences. (Experiment as paired differences, level 8 experimental design)

Investigate the history of the Mozart effect.

Planned assessment

This teaching and learning activity could lead towards assessment in the following achievement standard:

Spotlight on


  • Encouraging reflective thought and action by:
    • supporting students to explain and articulate their thinking
    • encouraging students to fine-tune their statistical thinking.

Key competencies

  • Thinking:
    • Students make deductions, they justify and verify, interpret and synthesize, and they create models.
  • Participating and contributing:
    • Students contribute to a culture of inquiry and learning. They share strategies and thinking.


Students will be encouraged to value:

  • innovation, inquiry, and curiosity, by thinking critically, creatively, and reflectively
  • community and participation for the common good.


Planning for content and language learning


This activity has been adapted from an investigation in Peck, Starnes, D. et al (2009). Making Sense of Statistical Studies Teacher’s Module.

Last updated September 14, 2020