Cove Creek School Students Make Own Odds at Probability Carnival

Published Wednesday, May 11, 2016 at 12:09 pm


Skyler Combs and Mattie Smith invited students and teachers to test the odds on tossing a ball through their creation.

Skyler Combs and Mattie Smith invited students and teachers to test the odds on tossing a ball through their creation.

When a teacher says her classroom “just exploded” with ideas and discussion, you probably wouldn’t guess the topic involved numbers. But that’s how Stephanie Kostis, AIG and math teacher at Cove Creek School, described what happened when her seventh graders’ discussion of probability and carnival games led to the suggestion of a Probability Carnival at school.

What ensued over the next two days left Kostis awed by the creativity, enthusiasm, and initiative of her students. “They did this completely on their own,” she remarked. “They found and crafted the materials at home or school to create the games, nothing was store bought. They designed the tickets, they chose the prizes, and they set up the rules with attention to the concepts of probability and their ideas of fairness. They worked hard on this project and were really pumped about showing their work to the rest of the school.”

Prior to the carnival, students studied their games and calculated the theoretical probability – what they expected to happen – of winning.  During the carnival, they collected data to chart the experimental probability of winning, meaning what actually happened.  They then used this data to compare theoretical and experimental probability, giving them a direct appreciation of the difference between the two.

The inscription on the tickets for the games of the Probability Carnival was borrowed from a famous line in The Hunger Games series that cleverly captured the spirit of the event: “May the odds be ever in your favor.” As students of probability, these game makers knew that wasn’t possible, but as gifted marketers, they appreciated its promising tone.

Invitations to Cove Creek’s first ever Probability Carnival were e-mailed to other teachers at the school and the positive responses further boosted enthusiasm among students. Over the course of the last week, nearly every class at the school came to take part in the games, hear the explanations of how they worked, and ask any questions they wanted. Teachers and students alike came away with new perspectives and increased understanding on the role of probability in everyday life.

Throughout the carnival, the students also created an in-house competition with marketing and design strategies. Who could collect the most tickets? Whose game would be played the most? This added a measure of competitive excitement that intensified student engagement. It also stimulated their thinking about the importance of communications and psychology in how people evaluate probability.

Even after the carnival was over, Kostis’ students continued to use it as a tool for learning. The data they compiled on expected probability and experimental probability turned out to be a great way to launch their study of statistics.

In addition to its greater educational value, one other difference between the Probability Carnival and many other carnivals was especially appreciated by parents: no one came to this one with a fistful of money and left broke and disappointed.

Kostis herself was enthused about the sheer joy and energy of the learning experience for her students. “This was a really great experience for our students and me.  It’s amazing what can happen when you allow students to truly take the lead on their own learning experiences.  I could not be more proud of all the work they did and of how much they learned and shared. Even more importantly, I am proud of the young men and women these students are.  To watch them take their own creativity, bring it to life, dig deeper into a concept, and teach it to other students with enthusiasm and maturity – it doesn’t get any better than this.”

girl red shirt

Bethany Hicks

ball & cups

Ty Church

2 boys

Ben Styles, Zachary Crosby

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