Probability is an area of mathematics that often doesn't get its fair share of attention in elementary classrooms. Here are some activities to get you started that involve students in thinking about probability ideaswhile also providing practice with mental addition, experience with strategic thinking, and the opportunity to relate multiplication and geometry. All activities are adapted from Marilyn Burns's About Teaching Mathematics (Math Solutions Publications, 1992).
The Game of Pig (Grades 3–8)
Math concepts: This game for two or more players gives students practice with mental addition and experience with thinking strategically.
The object: to be the first to score 100 points or more.
How to play: Players take turns rolling two dice and following these rules:
1. On a turn, a player may roll the dice as many times as he or she wants, mentally keeping a running total of the sums that come up. When the player stops rolling, he or she records the total and adds it to the scores from previous rounds.
2. But, if a 1 comes up on one of the dice before the player decides to stop rolling, the player scores 0 for that round and it's the next player's turn.
3. Even worse, if a 1 comes up on both dice, not only does the turn end, but the player's entire accumulated total returns to 0.
After students have had the chance to play the game for several days, have a class discussion about the strategies they used. You may want to list their ideas and have them test different strategies against each other to try and determine the best way to play.
Two-Dice Sums (Grades 1–8)
Math concepts: Students of all ages can play this game, as long as they're able to add the numbers that come up on two dice. While younger children benefit from the practice of adding, older students have the opportunity to think about the probability of the sums from rolling two dice.
The object: to remove all the counters in the fewest rolls possible.
How to play: Two or more