When you teach simple probability, it seems like you have to strike a balance between showing students how probability works and getting them to understand the math behind it. This topic lends itself to a lot of hands-on demonstrations and activities, which can be really fun. When I look for activities I know that I need hooks, practice activities and extensions. If you are looking for more about how I break down teaching and modeling simple probability, check out this post. Let’s dive into some fun and easy ways to get students thinking about simple probability.
9 activities for practice with simple probability:
- Probability Fair Online Game
- M&M Probability Activity
- Diamond Game
- QR Code Game
- Gallery Walk
- Knockout Game
- Rock, Paper, Scissors
- Bill Nye the Science Guy Video
- Interactive Probability Tools
Anticipatory Sets or Hooks
Sometimes I forget to have hooks for my lesson. With the time crunch that always seems pressing down on me, I go through periods where I don’t use an anticipatory set. When I get back to do them, I quickly remember why they exist in the first place and just how important they really are. Hooks get kids invested in the lesson and they activate prior knowledge. So, I’m happy to share with you some of the anticipatory sets, or hooks, I use for simple probability. The following three activities really got my students ready to learn about probability:
My students love playing games online. Also, they don’t seem to be very picky about the games. As long as it is easy to understand how to play, they will play it. This game uses a few probability concepts. When you first start you have to earn tickets by choosing the best probability on a spinner wheel. The carnival theme makes it very playful. After you earn some tickets with the wheel, you can enter the carnival and play some other games. Each game has some sort of probability concept.
I showed the students how the game worked and then let them play for a few minutes. Then, we discussed how each game was related to probability. Throughout the unit I let students go back and play this game when they finished something early. By starting off by playing this game, it built students’ background and gave us a common experience to refer back to about probability.
I had found this activity ahead of time and I was super excited to use it. Each students got a little bag of M&Ms and did an experiment to predict how many M&Ms were in their bag.
I was going to do this activity on a Tuesday, but I forgot to get the M&Ms. So, I moved it to Wednesday. Then, on Wednesday morning I realized I had forgotten to get the candy, again (oops!). I then did what all teachers do from time to time, I improvised. I went through my desk and found a bag of my 3-year old son’s Halloween candy. There was a variety of candy. I decided to have students use experimental probability to predict which candy was in a bag.
There was something like 8 purple nerds, 6 pink nerds, 2 smarties, 4 gobstoppers, and 2 purple skittles and 1 red skittles. We did this as a whole class and the everyone wrote down the experimental probability as I pulled a piece of candy out and then replaced it in the bag.
One thing I would do differently is I should have done less trials. We ended up doing 22 trials and missed the chance of turning it into a proportion. But overall, it was engaging. It illustrated for students how probability is about predicting, not know exactly what will happen.
This one was my favorite hook for this this unit. I have a set of giant playing cards. Kids love them because, well, they are ridiculous. One of the kids asked me where I got them and I told them I got them at a really big store where everything is really big. She responded and asked if they had Gummi bears at this story, because she would love to see that! I had to break it to her that I actually bought them from an instructional supply company and there would be no really huge Gummi bear. The disappointment was real.
For this hook, we played a probability game as a whole class. This game pits the teacher against the whole class. Students first choose a suit, either heart, diamond, club, or spade. Then, you let them choose a card. If they get a card with the suit they guessed they get a point. If they don’t match the suit, then the teacher gets a point. You repeat this 10 times. My class got a good streak going and I was afraid they were going to win, which would kinda of ruin the point, but in the end I won 6 to 4. They were so excited the whole time and they thought they were going to beat me.
After the game I asked them to figure out why this game was unfair. I let them think about it and write it down on their whiteboard. One by one I saw them getting it and writing their response. Most of them ended up with some iteration of, “The teacher had 3 chances of winning and the students had 1 chance.” They loved competing against me, and they got really into figuring out why the game was ultimately rigged. This activity was a great way to get students hooked into the lesson.
Practice Activities for Simple Probability
I am always looking for practice activities that match the assessment I will be giving students at the end of the unit. Here are a few activities that kids love and that give them a lot of practice with simple probability:
Kids love QR Codes. I’m not exactly sure why they love them so much. Maybe it’s the scanning and feeling like something magical is happening. I love them because they give students the chance to be self-checking. In my class I make sure to give students a lot of individualized and specific feedback. In addition to that feedback they need to find their own mistakes and this type of activity is perfect for that. This QR code game was a great way for my students to practice with simple probability and get immediate feedback.
To play, students need to have some type of internet enabled device like an iPad or phone and install a QR Code reader on it. This particular game has 16 questions and they have simple probability situations about rolling or choose skittles out of package. I let students play it like a game against each other. They enjoy the competition.
Have you ever done a Gallery Walk in your class before? If you haven’t, I would encourage you to try it. They are so engaging. There are many different ways have to have them set-up to get students moving around the room while practicing. This gallery walk was set-up in centers. Each center had a situation with simple probability, and several questions to answer about that situation. Groups of 3-4 students worked together to figure them out.
This activity provides an opportunity for students to talk about probability. In my class the kids had great math talk because they didn’t always agree. They explained to each other why they believe they were right. It took a little cajoling, but I did get them to talk and have discussions. At first all they wanted to do was answer the question and move on. I walked around the room and participated with groups and asked further questions to make sure they were talking. By the end of the activity, there was a lot of discussion and learning. It was fantastic.
My kids love knockout games. A Knockout Game is a game that I started making for my classes to play together to review a couple of years ago. To play, you display a game on the screen and students choose a character. Each character reveals a question. All students answer the question on their individual record sheet, and then we go over the question as a class. Students score points and there are fun bonuses where students can lose or gain more points.
This particular knockout game is a pretty fast game because the simple probability questions are fast. There are 16 questions which serve a great way to check for understanding or review before you take a test. It’s free and available for download over in my TpT store.
Extension and Performance Tasks
There isn’t always time for extension and performance tasks due to having so much to teach in such a short amount of time. But it’s good to have them handy because they can be used for fast finishers or when you have an extra few minutes. For example, next week we have an extra 25 minutes with our homeroom because the 8th graders have high school orientation. I love Bill Nye the science guy and we are studying probability, so we will watch his video during this time. You can find time if you are creative or you can always wait until after state testing is over.
This link shows how you can reinforce probability through playing rock, paper, scissors. I like to use this for fast finishers. It is a challenge to see if anyone can figure out how to beat the odds. Usually, students like to talk about what they figured out and show the rest of the class. It is good for students to see that probability is everywhere. Also, who doesn’t love a game of rock, paper, scissors?
I have loved watching Bill Nye the Science Guy since I was a kid. Now, as a teacher, I wish that there were more math episodes. So I was extra excited to find this episode about probability. It used to be hard to find a copy to show students, but now it is super easy. I paid $1.99 for this copy, but there are free version and clips on YouTube.
Students love these videos because they are silly and engaging. To keep students keyed in, I’ve found it helps to make sure that you have something for the students to be looking for while they are watching the video it. Otherwise, some of them will be daydreaming the whole time. For this video I am going to ask the following questions:
- What is the central idea of this video?
- Explain what you should do in the “Choose a Door” problem.
- What are some examples of probability in action?
- What is a bell curve and how does it work?
- Why are there runs of heads or tails when you flip a coin?
- What did you learn from this video?
- What questions do you have about this video?
I’m excited to share this video with my students this year. In addition to learning about math, I also get to share the late 80s styles which are rad and awesome!
I love this tool because it gives you multiple probability tools and you don’t have to physically have any of them. You can find similar apps on the Ipad as well. There are spinners and a coin. I love that this site includes discussions to help you know how to get kids talking. Click here for the discussion page. The discussion that I linked to is about how likely things are to happen. Students get a little confused about this and you can have this discussion many times until they get it.
There is so much to use on this site. Check it out and see if you can use something from it. If you have a lot of technology, this is a fantastic way of incorporating it that is more that just answering questions. Students will love the interactive aspect of this tool. They get to really play around with probability.
Try one thing…
Well, this is a lot of ideas and hopefully you have lots of thoughts on how you can adapt these ideas in your classroom. If you were struck with inspiration while reading this list, please share in the comments.
I work as an academic coach for part of the day and I challenge teachers to try one thing. Make one small change that challenges you or that you have always wanted to try. Those small changes over time with help you grow as a teacher. Let’s do this! Until next time.
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