Dr. Mick Norton, Magnet Parent and Retired CofC Professor, Talks Math with Students

On Thursday, March 26, AMHS was happy to welcome Dr. Mick Norton, a retired math professor at the College of Charleston. Dr. Norton’s two children, Andrew and Susan graduated from the Academic Magnet in 2000 and 2003, respectively. Right after receiving a Ph.D. in mathematics in 1974 at Oklahoma State University, he began to teach at CofC. Now, he acts as a statistical consultant. His book, Random Tales of a College Math Professor: Over-Easy, on Wry, describes exciting learning moments and highlights of his career. Students laughed as he mentioned that it was written in third person and began to read a selection of stories.

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First, he sparked students’ curiosity with a strange observation: standing on your head apparently caused weight loss. A few decades ago, wrestlers used to stand on their heads before the weigh-in, and the small amount of weight “lost” would sometimes be enough for a lower weight class. But does standing on your head really cause weight loss? Dr. Norton’s experiment proved the phenomenon to be true: the reading on the scale dropped by about one-twentieth of a pound only for those who stood on their heads. However, the participants’ weight slowly inched back up over several minutes. The explanation? Biology and physics: standing on your head makes internal fluids drain to your head, and their acceleration back downwards causes your apparent weight to decrease–it’s like measuring your weight on an elevator accelerating downwards.

Dr. Norton also talked about modeling the probability of a hurricane strike after a set of bowling pins. Next, he amused students with his story “Shaken, Not Stirred,” which described his experiences teaching statistics courses to middle-school teachers. Here, he expounded on the statistical principles of independence and expected values. His work as a consultant, using statistics to find the likelihood of a college student cheating on his multiple-choice tests at MUSC, also featured into the discussion. In the end, the student was not found guilty but forced to retake his courses, and Dr. Norton learned much about both statistical models and lawyers.

AMHS thanks Dr. Norton for taking the time to speak with us and share his enlightening, humorous experiences!

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