Friday, February 27, 2015

Teaching Probabilities

So teaching probabilities is "probably" one of the least comfortable subjects to teach, next to the tin whistle.  You "probably" aren't even sure why it's thrown in here during cycle 3's final six week segment of science.  After all, isn't this math and what in the world does it have to do with science anyway?  It's taken me this second time through the cycle to see the big picture of why this segment is in there, and then how to simplify this for the kids and myself!  I wish I had found a simplified explanation of how to teach this to kids (and the why) - from a non-math persons' perspective, when we went through cycle 3 the first time.  Well, here is an explanation for all those out there like me, that want a simplified non-math persons' perspective on teaching probabilities for cycle 3...

Why We Are Teaching This

We are about to head into the last five weeks of the science memory work, which will be focusing on topics such as natural selection, catastrophism, uniformitarianism, darwinism, etc.  We start out this week of probabilities at the same time we have our science memory work about, what the "heavens declare" from Psalms.  So…we are really setting the stage for dialectic discussion regarding the science of Origins.  We are essentially creating book ends, for this six weeks of memory work on Origins.  We start with what the heavens declare about creation (God's Word), which is our lens through which we should view Origins, and then end with what good science is, which is the accurate collection and analyzing of data (to calculate the Earth's age for example).  We are discussing theories of Origins in our science memory work, for the weeks in between those two book ends.  During all that, we are coming alongside and talking about probabilities.  Probabilities takes us to the discussion of odds, combinations, data collection, likelihoods etc. -which are all relevant to the science of Origins discussion.  As adults, we all know that data can be collected and analyzed, and then different or opposing views can be concluded from the same data.  During this segment, we are beginning to teach critical thinking skills; as we instruct the kids in collecting data, analyzing data, and drawing conclusions about data -all of which, a good scientist should do.

Probability for Non-Mathematicians 

Here is my non-mathematician formula:  

Probability =
Total You Want     
 Total of Everything

That's it!  Basically, whatever you are asking them to "sort" is the total you want.  The number of times or tries you are asking them to do it -is the total of everything!  Then divide the total they want into the total of everything and you will have a fraction.  Reduce the fraction, by dividing the top and bottom number by the greatest common factor.  Here is a video on reducing fractions help, if you need to brush up.  Here is a good probability video that gives a clear explanation, as well.


Tally Marks -a quick way of keeping track of things in groups of five.

Probability - the likelihood of something happening or we could say it's the study of random events.

Outcomes - the possible results of an experiment.

Event - is a group of outcomes.  So on your CC day, the lab is one event that had many outcomes for the class.  If you did it on the following day, it would be two events and so on.  It's a great way for scientists to skew data.

Conventional Scientific Method - Hypothesis must be testable and repeatable.  In the science of Origins, we obviously can't do this, so collecting data and analyzing probabilities is used instead.

Probability has real life application that may interest your students, when they are able to make the connection.  Explain to them some of the places we regularly see probabilities used.  For example; in weather reporting, medical findings/studies, sports, political polling, and even our state lottery.  I explained to my Journeyman class, the way that our science lab tied into our coming weeks of science, and I explained why we were beginning with Psalms about the Heavens and ending with what good science was.  I felt it was important for them to see the big picture and help them make the connections over these next several weeks.  It's also a very classical approach to teaching it.

Skewing Data - Probability -Why It Matters

Something really important for the kids to begin to see, so that can critically think, is to understand how data can be skewed.  This is a very relevant discussion on the science of Origins.  Let me explain....

Let's say that we want to set up a lab for the kids, to show them this idea.  We can use a trash can and some wadded up sheets of paper.  Have them throw a wad of paper 20 times into the can.  Let's say that they make 3 out of 17 throws successfully.  We could take the actual probability which would be 3:20, or we could skew the data by splitting it into events.  Let's say that each successful throw is counted as an event, and then the 17 unsuccessful throws is a separate event.  So now we have 4 events total.  Event 1 is 1:1, Event 2 is 1:1, Event 3 is 1:1 and then Event 4 is 0:17.  We can create an average probability of the four events by putting the total events on the bottom, and the probability of the events on the top.  This will give us an event average probability of 3:4 or 75% success of throws.  That's a far cry from the actual average probability of 3:20 or 15%!  So using this example, we can see how data can be skewed to a desired outcome. 

Practice for Kids

If you are looking to expose your children to some additional opportunities at playing around with probabilities outside the CC classroom, or you are a tutor looking for some classroom games, then here are some good resources to take a look at:

Several Free Online Probability Games to Play
Some Fun Classroom Games for Probability
An Edible Probability Activity for Home
Lots of Probability Games to Play with Class or Home

I hope teaching probabilities seems a little more approachable for you, and I hope it helps you see the big picture on why this is included in the science for the final six weeks of cycle 3.


  1. Thank you for showing us ways to make this "not-so-fun" lesson a great time! It totally makes sense why CC teaches about Probability. Can't wait to use the lessons at home! :)

    1. Erin - Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I am so glad this has helped you to find the purpose and fun in teaching probabilities to your kids. Blessings - Colleen

  2. Wow - I can't get over all the resources your have here! We are in the planning stages for homeschooling starting in the fall and I will definitely by using your site as a resource - thanks!!!

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    2. Enjoy the homeschooling journey! Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad to hear that my blog will be a good resource for you, in your journey. Blessings - Colleen

  3. Thanks for explaining why probabilities is taught in science and some resources to make it fun! Probability gives my children headaches at times, so I'm thrilled to find some fun real world resources to use. :-)

    1. Sara - I hope it makes it fun! The kids in my class really got it when I used the basketball example, and they saw how it worked when I made one of the kids in our class go from a 15% free throw shooter to a basketball star by manipulating my data! LOL Blessings - Colleen