Making Maths Exciting - Games, Goats and Gold

Maths Scholars Celebratory Event - 22 September 2018

Games, Gold and Goats The room descended to quiet. A hundred and twenty of the country’s finest developing maths teachers were suddenly transported to a set with our host Colin Beveridge. He explained that today we would be looking at the theory of probability behind five well-known game shows, and we were starting with a country favourite – deal or no deal.

It was the first event in our scholarship year; the buzz in the air was palpable as the new scholars were set the task of introducing themselves and discussing how much money they would be willing to accept from the banker when left with two boxes of 1p and £250,000 – and in a group full of mathematicians, the figure that came about was obviously unrealistically large and based upon averages. We ploughed on through to our next game – the chase, could we finally have a mathematical probability of beating the chaser. This was a fascinating game than involved looking more at event trees and how mapping the number of events was more intuitive than mapping the probability of an event; a useful tool for pupils who struggle with fractions and prefer integers. We looked at how to extend the game for those pupils who need the challenge by changing probabilities and the number of rungs ahead of the chaser you start.

Monty Hall, everyone knew the problem, everyone knew the solution, and we all knew that we were going home with the greatest prize of all, a (goat) car. The age-old problem, shown beautifully through a simple simulation, became more than just a logical but theoretical understanding of probability, it became a virtual, visual representation of justifying why the probabilities work, enough to convince the greatest doubters of all, eleven-year-old pupils. I will add to this blog when I get around to teaching probabilities in the next few weeks, I cannot wait to see how my Year 7's will react to this problem, and if any of them had considered the extensive applications of the understanding behind the probabilities.

Finally, we played a game in Brucie’s memory, Play your Cards Right. It was here that the room became a theatre as Colin brought up Sophie and Annie as his glamorous helpers. Before we discussed probability, we played the game as a group, shouting higher or lower depending on the card we’d just seen. It was a practical demonstration of the innate understanding of likelihood, we knew that getting a Queen meant your next card was more likely to be lower than higher. But it was now up to us to work out a general probability something that older year groups could debate on for hours. It became clear to many people that doing a computer simulation of the game would be an exciting and visual display of probabilities involved.

This may only be a taster of what we achieved in the first session of our first event, but hopefully it conveys the engagement and overall enjoyment of the group. This was not a session designed to increase our depth of knowledge in probability, it was a session that showed us knowledge for teaching, for differentiating and most importantly for making maths exciting again. Probability can be such a dull topic, and I know I have taught it out of any realistic context with spinners and dice before, now I have a chance to show them that their day-time TV watching over summer can be manipulated into helping them win a lot of money – what pupil wouldn’t want to learn maths then?

Isabelle Perrin

Watford Grammar School for Girls, Schools Direct