Engaging students: Expressing probability as a fraction and as a percentage

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 again comes from my former student Jenna Sieling. Her topic, from probability: expressing a probability as a fraction and as a percentage.

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

This topic is something that can really be applied in many places. Especially in sports, weather, and economics, probabilities as fractions and percentages are used daily. This can become very relatable to high school students no matter what they are interested in or plan to study in college. An activity that can be used in the classroom is starting a fake fantasy football league. Although I have never played in a fantasy football league, I know that to win in your group you need to look at the statistics of each player doing well. Given a class of hopefully around 30 students, we can start a week long activity of our own fantasy football league in the classroom and the students can be given different statistics each day to calculate the probability of their players being a good advantage for their team. This is just one activity that could catch the interest of students who may not usually be interested in probabilities.

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

One of the most popular majors for young students to fall into is business and probabilities become an important concept to understand if you plan to work in the business world. By making this point to a class, I feel the students will take the importance of this subject to heart. Business is not the only future path that would be using probabilities in the form of fractions or percentages. Fields like meteorology, economics, and even education majors would use the concept of probabilities to help teach elementary school students the basics to help them further on. If a student goes on to study history, at one point he or she will have to look at the economic history and understand the probability of these events happening and the probability of them happening again. The student would need to know how to multiply integers by fractions or percentages to gain conceptual knowledge of probability and its use.

How can technology (YouTube, Khan Academy [khanacademy.org], Vi Hart, Geometers Sketchpad, graphing calculators, etc.) be used to effectively engage students with this topic?

I googled different online games to use for probability games and the most useful games, I found from Mathwire.com. Most games on this website were dice-based probability games but I think these are fun, easy games that could be assigned as homework. One game on the website was a game named SKUNK. The aim of the game is to guess the probability that a pair a dice will give you the highest amount of points. Each letter in the name SKUNK counts as one round and at the end of all the rounds, the person with the highest amount of points wins. Each player has to roll the dice once within one round and calculate the probability of getting the highest amount on each round. After looking at this game and others on this website, I realized that I could also explain the probability you need to understand to play poker if it was a popular game between friends and family. I could easily find a website to create a mock poker game and show students the idea of probability within poker.

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