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!


Amanda said...

I remember reading your idea on Deal or No Deal last year...Were you ever able to figure out how to adapt the Deal or No Deal Lesson to include independent/dependent probability? Thanks in advance!

WideIEyedWonder said...

If anyone is working with spinners for probability, I have found really good luck just giving students (from fourth grade on up) a large paper clip that I bent one of the sides up to make straight. Then you put the paper clip on a piece of paper that has your spinner on it, put your pencil in the center of the circle in the part of the paper clip that still has a loop and flick the long straight part with your finger. The students just record whatever the straight part lands on using that as their arrow. It is easy and best of all, CHEAP!

Mr. D said...

Amanda: I still haven't come up with a way, but I think that you accomplish enough through that game as-is. You'll be happy to know, however, that I am working on a new game right now which focuses more on independent vs. dependent events!

stockwellapril said...

Really good ideas for fun lesson plans. I love that you are taking the time to make math fun for your students!

If anyone needs a good overview video for probability, I just posted one that is great. Edward Burger teaches probability and is hilarious!


Jeny Garst said...

I am so excited I came across the create your own game project. I have had an idea of doing this exact project but have never been able to fully develop the concept. But the link you live on the post just takes me to the school's webpage and not the lesson plan document. Anyway you could make the document available? Thanks so much for all the great ideas!

Mr. D said...

Jeny, unfortunately that lesson was created and hosted by someone else. It look like they've taken it down. It's a shame, because it was a good idea. I don't think it would be to hard to create your own version; the basic idea was to create your own game and calculate the probability of winning or of other things happening.

Natalie said...

I was also trying to find the probability game. I am having a hard time creating guidelines and a rubric to follow. Any ideas?

I like the carnival game idea but what did the students have to do exactly? I keep thinking that students will make up a game saying that everyone has a fair chance of winning. I want to make sure that the directions are clear. Any input would be greatly appreciated!

Mr. D said...


I think you have to allow students to design both a fair and unfair game. Let's say they start by creating a fair (50%) game. They would have to explain what makes it fair. Then, they have to change some part of the game to make it easier to win, then harder. They'd have to be specific in explaining what they would change and then showing the probability as a fraction and percent.

It's also key to have the students actually build and play their game, recording results and calculating experimental probability. Then they should compare that to their theoretical probability to illustrate the difference.

Finally, this project provides an opportunity to show the difference between odds and probability. Have them convert their probability to odds and explain which might make them more or less likely to play a game.

In the original (now missing) activity, the authors suggested you hold a carnival where your students play each others' games. You could even have students figure out probabilities for winning each game they play as they participate, recording it on a simple graphic organizer. Afterward, you can show students the actual probability for each game and have them correct their own tables (you might also have then explain where they might have gone wrong for certain games).

I hope this helps!

Christine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mr. D said...

I can see a lot of people are asking for this now-MIA lesson. I'll see if I can track it down on my computer somewhere, but otherwise I'll try to create a new version to replace it. I hope my ideas above help guide you in the meantime.

Miss L said...

Hi there,
I love your website. I'm a new teacher and I've just stumbled upon here, and it already seems so helpful. I'm teaching probability to a low ability grade 11 class right now, and I was just wondering if you've found the document for "Design Your Own Game". I read the information for it, it sounds great, but when I click the link, it doesn't work.

Thank you for this website - it's wonderful!

Miss L said...

Hi there,
I love your website. I'm a new teacher and I've just stumbled upon here, and it already seems so helpful. I'm teaching probability to a low ability grade 11 class right now, and I was just wondering if you've found the document for "Design Your Own Game". I read the information for it, it sounds great, but when I click the link, it doesn't work.

Thank you for this website - it's wonderful!

Anonymous said...


I love your ideas and lesson plans! I had an idea myself to have the students create a probability game, and saw that you had a link to a word document, but I could not get it to work. Is there any other way I can access this?



Mr. D said...

Hello everyone! Many of you have emailed me because the original link to the "Design Your Own Game" document was dead.

I searched through my records and found it! I've made it available via Google Docs.

Download the Design Your Own Game activity

MC said...

Thank you for this great idea! I am very excited to try it out with various levels of students. You mentioned in an earlier comment that you were working on a game focused on independent vs. dependent events. Did you succeed in your creation?

Mr. D said...

I haven't figured out the independent vs dependent version of Deal or No Deal, but you could try this version of High or Low.

Mr. D said...

UPDATE: Here's the link to the Design Your Own Carnival game document:

Design Your Own Carnival Game

I was able to find a copy in my records and share it via Google Docs.

Ms. Brown said...

Hi Mr. D!

I am looking forward to doing the probability project (and carnival!) with my Algebra II classes. I plan to do it in the time between the end of our state testing and the end of the marking period (8 days). How would you recommend structuring the process? Unfortunately, we did not do a proper probability unit this year and were only able to cover probability, compound probability, odds, and briefly touch on experimental vs. theoretical. I am imagining that students will at least need mini lessons on experimental vs. theoretical probability, "fairness" in probability, and independent/dependent events. I would love to hear any feedback from you as far as structuring the project along with the mini lessons so that students can leave with the deepest understanding of probability. Thank you so so much in advance for your help! And for providing all of the wonderful insight and resources that you do!


Mr. D said...

Ms. Brown: My suggestion for reintroducing the unit is to start with a simple coin flipping activity. Pairs of students flip a coin 50 times--one flips, the other records heads or tails. At the end, they tally the results. On the board, you make a table with all the results. Then you can discuss it in terms of theoretical vs. experimental.

As far as the carnival games, I would recommend devising a couple of example games (or drawing from real life carnivals if any are in town). Walk your students through the process of creating and figuring out theoretical probability for it. I might also have them test out the experimental probability and compare it to their theoretical. (I didn't do this when I did the activity previously, but in retrospect I should have).

Triple_B said...

Wow! I was looking for project ideas for my Probability & Statistics class and I clicked on the "Design A Game" link and thought this looks familiar. Real familiar. I wrote it a and tried it a couple of years ago, and never tried it again. How did it workout for anyone else?