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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Probability Adventures in Math Class

We have started a new mini-theme in math class, one that is always hugely popular with the students. We will practice our data collection and probability skills by reading stories, classroom activities, and lots of partner games.

Probability is not normally taught to very young children in most math programs, as the emphasis is usually on operations and fact fluency. "As with other beautiful and useful areas of mathematics, probability has in practice only a limited place in even secondary school instruction" (Moore, 1990). However, this type of reasoning is essential in daily life, and is an example of real-life math. I gave a very current example this morning when we talked about our busy meteorologists, and the odds or chances of precipitation. While some weather reports are saying 6 inches of snow by tomorrow afternoon, and others are saying more like 11 inches, we talked about how the chances of "some snow" were very high. The chances of a meteorologist being always exactly right were quite low. Genetics, politics, sports, and insurance policies are other examples of times that probability come into play.

Here is an example of an activity we do in class, to practice making predictions and figuring out probability. Partners were given a dime and a penny, a cup, and a recording sheet. They took turns shaking the coins and recording heads/tails on each coin. Partner A got a point each time two heads or two tails came up. Partner B got a point each time the coins were different (one heads and the other tails). We talked about whether this was a "fair game". After playing a couple times, students added their data to the board, and we discussed the results. (Of course, the four outcomes were not exactly the same, but most students could be convinced that they were very close, and would become closer with a larger sample.) More experienced students were able to articulate that there was a 1 out of 4 chance of getting any of the combinations, and a 1 out 2 chance (or 50-50) of getting either both coins being the same, or both coins being different.

We also started playing the great game of PIG. More about that, with a link to instructions of a home version, in a future blog.

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