Most high schools have a set amount of time in-between classes during which students must get to their next class. If you were to stand at the door of your statistics class and watch the students coming in, think about how the students would enter. Usually, one or two students enter early, then more students come in, then a large group of students enter, and finally, the number of students entering decreases again, with one or two students barely making it on time, or perhaps even coming in late!
Now consider this. Have you ever popped popcorn in a microwave? Think about what happens in terms of the rate at which the kernels pop. For the first few minutes, nothing happens, and then, after a while, a few kernels start popping. This rate increases to the point at which you hear most of the kernels popping, and then it gradually decreases again until just a kernel or two pops.
Here's something else to think about. Try measuring the height, shoe size, or the width of the hands of the students in your class. In most situations, you will probably find that there are a couple of students with very low measurements and a couple with very high measurements, with the majority of students centered on a particular value.
All of these examples show a typical pattern that seems to be a part of many real-life phenomena. In statistics, because this pattern is so pervasive, it seems to fit to call it normal, or more formally, the normal distribution. The normal distribution is an extremely important concept, because it occurs so often in the data we collect from the natural world, as well as in many of the more theoretical ideas that are the foundation of statistics. This chapter explores the details of the normal distribution.
This chapter introduces students to the density curves by investigating the area under the normal and standard normal distributions. It demonstrates how to find probabilities for certain intervals of values for normal and standard normal variables, as well as to the opposite: finding the boundary value(s) of the normal random variable when given a percentage of data.