Engaging students: Probability and odds

In my capstone class for future secondary math teachers, I ask my students to come up with ideas for engaging their students with different topics in the secondary mathematics curriculum. In other words, the point of the assignment was not to devise a full-blown lesson plan on this topic. Instead, I asked my students to think about three different ways of getting their students interested in the topic in the first place.

I plan to share some of the best of these ideas on this blog (after asking my students’ permission, of course).

This student submission comes from my former student Tiffany Wilhoit. Her topic: probability and odds.

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How could you as a teacher create an activity or project that involves your topic?

A fun project to be used with the topic would be to fake a disaster and have the students determine their chance of surviving. This could even be tied in with a history class lesson. For example, if the students were discussing the Titanic (or any other disaster) you could have the students determine their chance of surviving the shipwreck. The students could be given data (Bonus points if they have to find the data themselves!), and from the data apply the information to the class. The students could then solve to find out the chances of each student surviving the disaster.


Another project is to set up a series of races or competitions. There could be separate heats which lead to a final race. The students could then see who wins, and calculate the probability of that person winning. They could also use the information to discover the chances of coming in the top three or top half. This would allow the students to have a “hands on” engagement before applying the knowledge they learned.


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How can this topic be used in your students’ future courses in mathematics or science?


Probability and odds is a very relevant topic when discussing genetics. In the students’ future biology class they will discuss Punnett squares. The Punnett square shows the possible combinations of genes an offspring will inherit from its parents. Through using Punnett squares, the students will need to discover the odds or probability of a certain trait being shown in the offspring. By already mastering this topic, the students will have a greater understanding of the information given by the Punnett squares. This will also allow the students to determine how likely certain diseases will be passed on from generation to generation. Once they master the Punnett square involving one trait, the students will then be able to use their knowledge of permutations, combinations, and compound events to find the probability of multiple traits showing up at the same time.


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How has this topic appeared in pop culture?


March Madness has become wildly popular since the contest for the Million Dollar Bracket began. While some fill the bracket out randomly, the use of odds and probability can help you choose the best team to pick. Also, we constantly hear about how the chances of winning are so low. Using probability and odds, the exact chance can be determined. The odds of choosing the winning team can also be determined. The students can use similar techniques to determine the chances of the school team winning a game or tournament. This knowledge is applicable in other areas too. We see it predominantly in gambling. You must determine your chances of winning to make a smart bet in a variety of games such as blackjack, poker, roulette, or even horse races such as the Kentucky Derby.





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