UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Probabilistic thinking in a grade four/five class Nicolson, Cynthia Pratt


In this case study, a class of 28 grade four and five students participated in a three-week instructional unit on probability. As a teacher/researcher, I conducted six sessions during which students investigated probability through games and experiments using spinners and dice. As demonstrated in their spoken and written comments before, during and after the instructional unit, many of these children held deep misconceptions about randomness and chance that affected their ability to grasp the concepts being presented. Several students expressed the belief that one number on a single die was harder to roll than others, and approximately half the class indicated that the arrangement (contiguous or non-contiguous) of shaded segments on spinners alters their probable outcomes. In some cases, concrete experimentation seemed to confirm intuitions that contradicted probability theory, or even seemed to undermine developing concepts. Common misconceptions, fragile student knowledge, student-caused bias in trials, time constraints and gaps in teacher knowledge are described as major challenges to the successful learning and teaching of probability at this grade level. This thesis questions current thinking about appropriate timing and pedagogy for probability instruction, addresses ideas for further research, and suggests an alternative approach to early probability instruction. Personal reflections highlight the challenges faced by teachers as they tackle probability theory.

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