But Would You Put Money On It?

I have felt one of two extremes every day this school year:

  1. My students aren’t learning anything meaningful, it’s impossible to do everything I need to do well, and my brain is on fire.
  2. Cheers!  My students had fun while making meaningful mathematical connections.

Today was the latter kind of day so I thought I’d take a few moments to embrace it.

I proposed this scenario to my non-AP probability and statistics class:

Doubles Dilemma (1)

I had students discuss their initial reactions.  Many of them mentioned specifics like “1 out of 6” and “36 possibilities” but for the most part, the students were willing to put their hard earned money on the line for a chance at avoiding doubles.  (To be clear, no actual betting went on in my classroom)

Then we rolled until we got doubles.  And rolled again and again and again.  I have one computer and a class set of TI-84s.  So, naturally, we made a class dot plot of our average number of rolls to get doubles.

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Now that our data was collected, I asked them again if they would take the bet.  Since $5 didn’t seem to be enough money for them to really consider the probability, I upped the wager to $100.  That seemed to be enough money for them to consider the results of the experiment and think twice about putting up $100 because they feel lucky.

Thanks to Chris True, Mathematics Professor at the University of Nebraska, who proposed this scenario at an AP Statistics training I attended this summer.

 

If you’re decently competent in the area of probability, you might know that your chances of winning fall below things like “death from a vending machine” and “having identical quadruplets.”  This doesn’t stop many people from playing.  I think playing the lottery is more about the chance to dream of what our lives would be like with that much money rather than actually believing we could win.

In the UK, the lottery consists of picking 6 numbers between 1 and 49.  Any player to match all 6 numbers is the grand prize winner.  The chances of this are certainly astronomically low.  A fun question to ask a class of students:  If we bought a lottery ticket for every different combination of 6 numbers to ensure we’d win, how high would that stack of tickets reach?

In the task Do You Feel Lucky, Nrich tackles the idea of evaluating advice given on raising your chances of winning this seemingly impossible lottery. Students are asked to comment on the validity of the advice given and one in particular caught my eye:

When picking lottery numbers, choose numbers that sum between 100 and 200 because the total is rarely outside this range.  

Whoa.  There are so many ways we could evaluate the validity of that claim.  So I sent my students off to the races. Most of them wanted to use a random integer selector and then gather the data from the class’s trials.

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GeoGebra Results:

Lottery

Lots for them to talk about here.  Lots of questions for them to ask as well.  Does the range seem too wide?  Do we have enough trials?  What do we make of the dip in the middle?  Should we change the bar graph to have different class sizes?  Would a box plot have been more appropriate?  What about the descriptive statistics?  Would those help us out?

I’m hoping next year to extend this into more of a class activity rather than an impromptu discussion.

 

Chipotle for Everyone

I’m hard pressed anymore to find a classroom of high school kids who don’t absolutely adore Chipotle’s menu options.  They all have a favorite, and they own it as THEIR burrito.  (I like Chipotle in particular because as a vegan, I can get a delicious meal, as can any non-vegan meal companion.)

I came across this article from Vox claiming Chipotle’s menu calorie disclosures were inaccurate.  I’m going to give Chipotle the benefit of the doubt here because their website contains a very detailed nutrition calculator which allows you to determine the number of calories for your  customized burrito.

The article references a study from the Journal of Public Health Nutrition which reviews a study in which customers are asked to estimate the calorie content of their meal. Some groups were given no information at all.  Some groups were given a range of calories in which burritos in general fell.  Last, additional groups were given example burritos containing the low and high values in the calorie spread.

I had a randomly selected student create a burrito.  Each class was obviously something different which made it kind of fun.

First, I had them estimate the number of calories in the chosen student’s burrito.

Second, I gave them the calorie range of 410-1185 claimed in which Chipotle’s burritos are claimed to land.  I had them adjust their estimate and give reasoning for their adjustment based on the additional information.

I then showed them the calorie range with an example from the Journal article’s study:

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Third, I wanted them to use the examples above to adjust their estimate once more.

We then talked about how the range of our estimates changed and why.  We also had a discussion about ‘averaging bias’ and how healthy ingredients make us assume that certain food are lower in calories than they actually are.

We were able to discuss the surveying methods done for the study and the demographics of participants, which led to a nice discussion about sampling.  (Evidently high school 9th graders find it odd and quite a bit creepy that participants in the survey were given a “flavored ice pop” in exchange for 5 minutes of their time.)

As long as I had their attention with food, I asked them to estimate whether the student’s burrito had more or less calories than my vegan burrito.  I’ll let you decide:

Student’s Burrito:  chicken, white rice, pinto beans, tomato salsa, cheese, and lettuce

My Burrito:  brown rice, fajita vegetables, black beans, tomato salsa, corn salsa, guacamole, and lettuce.