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 again comes from my former student Victor Acevedo. His topic, from Pre-Algebra: probability and odds.

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How can technology be used to effectively engage students with this topic?

There is an online interactive game in which students practice their knowledge on probability. The game is called “Beat the Odds” and it is on PBS’s learning media website. There are two game modes: training and competition. In training mode, students must answer questions about finding the probability of various events. (rolling a die, picking from a deck of cards, etc.) For each correct answer, students earn digital money and the questions scale in difficulty. After the students feel that they have earned enough money, they can switch over to competition mode. Competition mode allows students to bet money against other bot players to see who can answer questions the most accurately. Students are asked various questions and whoever is the closest to the correct answer wins the money in the “pot.”  Students can keep playing either until they lose all their money or until they decide to get out while they are ahead.



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How has this topic appeared in pop culture (movies, TV, current music, video games, etc.)?

Probability is an integral part to sports analysis. In baseball, batting averages are used to determine a player’s batting ability by dividing the number of successful hits by the number of at bats. This statistic can be used to determine the probability that a player may hit a ball during their next at bat. For example, a player that has a .400 would have roughly a 40% chance of hitting the ball during their next at bat. By using a player’s batting average and other stats, teams can decide how to set up their line up for going up to bat. Typically, the players with the highest batting averages take up the first 5 spots in the lineup. The first three players need to be able to make it on to a base, while the fourth player needs to be a heavy hitter than can possibly have everyone score runs. Coaches consider every players’ batting averages, as well as other stats, to help them determine their best lineup and chances of winning.



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

Quantum theory is a branch of physics that focuses on studying the different properties of atoms and particles. The most famous application of probability in quantum theory is the concept of the wave-particle duality of light. A thought experiment with Schrodinger’s cat helps to illustrate this idea in terms that most can comprehend. A cat is trapped in a box with a poison gas that is randomly released. As an observer, you cannot tell whether that is dead or alive unless you open the box. Schrodinger theorized that until the box is open, the cat is neither dead nor alive but rather in between. The concept of wave-particle duality states that light and other quantum sized particles can behave as either waves or particles depending on the observer. Theoretical physicists have concluded that this idea of fluctuating realities is an underlying truth of all probabilities. Because of this, physicists believe that either we must accept this as truth and hold true the possibility of multiple universes, or that there may be something wrong with the theory as it currently stands.




Beat the Odds. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://kera.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/mgbh.math.sp.beatodds/beat-the-odds/#.W4ndKuhKhPY

Fell, A. (2013, February 5). Does probability come from quantum physics? Retrieved from https://www.ucdavis.edu/news/does-probability-come-quantum-physics/

Freudenrich, C., Ph.D. (2000, July 10). How Light Works. Retrieved from https://science.howstuffworks.com/light6.htm


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