100 Rolls Task

Most probability resources contain a familiar type of question: the two-dice probability distribution problem. Often times, it is accompanied with questions concerning the sums of the faces that appear on each dice. For example: Roll two fair, 6-sided dice. What possible sums can be made by adding the faces together? What is the probability that: a) the sum is 6 b) the sum is a multiple of 4 c) the sum is greater than 15? I think the obsession with this specific subdomain of probability questions stems from the elegant way in which a table of outcomes (pictured below) leads to a …

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Dice Auction

Every student has a gut feeling when it comes to probability, and I feel like I have been too quick to theorize their gut instincts in the past. This year to introduce Grade 9 probability, I decided to exploit gut feelings to introduce the topic. To do this, I needed a semi-familiar situation, some friendly competition, and a time pressure to make decisions. To fit these criteria, I invented the Dice Auction.Premise:You are invited to an auction, and given a budget of $10. Everyone at this auction has an identical budget. You all are bidding on possible events when two …

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Egg Roulette

I find probability to be one of the most difficult topics for students to grasp. Beyond the simple experiments of spinners, coins, and dice, students have issues operating on uncertainty. This issue is compounded when multiple events each involve such a calculation as well as the relationship between them. Soon they find themselves neck-deep in notation and lose all rationality–they forget what they are solving to begin with.  This past week we found ourselves mired in another battle with conditional probability. The initial questions were completed at a high level: Sally draws two cards from a standard deck without replacement. …

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Spinner Data Task

The difference between what should happen and what does happen is a difficult distinction for students. They are so used to finding exact answers in the back of textbooks, that differing experimental results create an sense of uneasiness. At an early age (Grade 9 in my province) we begin to introduce students to the ideas of sampling and experimental probability.  The topic is usually approached with a project or survey of schoolmates. The results are then tallied and then used to create “probabilities” of various things such as favourite sports team, food, or colour. I love the philosophy behind the …

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Fair Dice Task

The recent curriculum renewal has placed a (well-deserved) heightened emphasis on counting, set theory, and probability. Just under a half of a Grade 12 “Foundations of Mathematics” course now covers the three topics. This is a huge improvement from the token, disjointed topics strewn around the last courses. It allows teachers to set a different tone–a tone of curiosity that seems inherent in probability. I came across the idea of Grime Dice (named and pioneered by Dr. James Grime @jamesgrime) late last year after I knew I was to be teaching probability this winter. I knew right away this was a …

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Stations in High School Math

One of the coolest experiences in my university training was the opportunity to invite a kindergarten class into our mathematics methods class for a mathematical field trip. Our class was divided into groups of three or four and were given the task of designing a mathematical activity that the students would try. The afternoon was a hit. Each group set up shop around the room and the kids freely moved from station to station as they mastered each activity. Somewhere along the way, mathematics becomes formalized and stationary. I imagine it is around the time of fractions. I assume this for no better reason than teachers …

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A Declaration of Independence

I used to be roommates with a magician. He kept all of his materials locked up in a trunk in our hall closet. Although he had devoted himself to the study of human psychology, I still convinced him to crack open the trunk and show me a trick from time to time. This experience was one of the most frustrating yet intellectually stimulating experiences of my life. I was a mathematics undergrad immersed in a stressful environment of number theory, numerical analysis, and abstract algebra. I was being trained to reason effectively, and his antics refreshed my perspective on reality. …

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The “Nearly” in Mathematics

Mathematics is the purest form of science, or at least that is what they tell us in university. This ideology carries over into the school staff; it wasn’t long until another member of the staff referred to me as a “math guy”. As much as this label is also self-imposed, I still struggle to understand what it means. The labels “english guy”, “phys-ed guy”, and “science guy” all persist within the building as well, but there is something that about the title of “math guy” that gets me. My friends and family quickly shunt all calculations to me when needed. …

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Life’s Not Fair

The school year is now over for me. That is a bittersweet statement, because I still have mountains of grading and report card comments to do, but there will be no more direct lessons in the 2010/2011 school year. I found myself nostalgic this morning, and began to recount the good times in the classroom. I recalled the probability mayhem that ensued with my Grade 11s. It was very amusing to see them come up with ways to describe “fair”. I would always tell them that I would only do something if it was “fair”. This, to them, meant a …

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Balls and Bins

One of my pervious posts mentioned the problem of the balls and the bins. I got this problem from a source on twitter that I have since forgotten. Regardless of its origin, the question has been a fun one to pose to students and colleagues alike (I even asked my in-laws with some very interesting results). For those of you who haven’t read “Practice What You Preach“, The problem is as follows: You have 8 balls, and 2 bins. 4 of the balls are Red, and 4 of the balls are White. Your job is to arrange the balls in …

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