Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Three Fun Probability Games and Projects

I did a lot of research on probability lesson plans this past year, but I really didn't like a lot of what I found. I found that most of them they just weren't any fun, which in my mind seems to go hand in hand with probability. So here's two new resources I found, an old idea worth revisiting, and advice about setting up your students for success on this topic.
  1. Mathwire.com One-Die Toss Activities - This site has a bunch of dice-based probability games. I recommend Pig, Skunk and the Cheerios Experiment (which really should be named after a more unhealthy, toy-promoting cereal), as all of them were successful in class.
  2. Design Your Own Game Project [Google Doc] - Students design their own carnival-style game, calculate the probabilities involved and reflect on what they learned and created. It's simple to explain but will push your students to really think about probability in this kind of context. The document includes a rubric as well. My students really enjoyed doing this, both in Algebra I & II. If you have the time and resources, you could even have a "Carnival Day" where students would play each other's games. This game was found online and the link had been dead for a long time, but I found a copy in my records and added it as a Google Doc.
  3. Probability Using "Deal or No Deal" - This is arguably my most popular lesson plan idea ever, but I actually want to make sure you read the opening coin-flipping activity I used before starting the game. Even if you don't use the game itself, you should absolutely open any probability unit with that fun activity.
Setting students up for success with probability

Unlike in the Rio Grande Valley, many students in Boston didn't know the basics of a regular deck of cards. I would imagine that is the case in many areas these days, as kids move farther and farther away from the traditional games you and I might have played in our youth. First, it might help to post this in the room somewhere for your entire unit:
A regular deck of cards has:
52 cards total
26 red (13 diamonds, 13 hearts) and 26 black (13 spades, 13 clubs)
Each of the 4 groups has the cards 2-10, J, Q, K, and A
Probability questions involving playing cards are one of the most common asked on standardized testing in both Massachusetts and Texas (and we all know how much influence the latter has, for better or worse). Your students need to be ready for them, and I think it will make other probability questions easier as well.

You can ask simple questions as a review and check to make sure they're simplifying each fraction, then move on to asking them about independent and dependent events. Your textbook and supplemental material is probably full of these types of questions as well.

Finally, some students will need an actual deck of cards in front of them to understand the questions, which is another good reason to make sure you always have one in your classroom!