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What is probability and why is it important?

Read this article describing what statistics and probability are.

In general terms, probability is “a mathematical tool used to study randomness”, model and explain chance events (Illowsky & Dean, 2013, p.6).

It is the numerical representation of how likely an event is to happen. This can be anything from how likely it is to rain on a certain day to how likely it is to roll a six on a dice.

The two key pieces of language involved in probability are randomness and the likelihood/chance.

1. Randomness is the lack of a predictable order and pattern in events.

2. The likelihood or chance is the measure of how probable it is an event will happen/won’t happen (e.g., impossible, possible, certain, likely, most likely, unlikely, slim chance).

The study of probability is important, because it it is likely that you will encounter aspects of probability every day. Additionally, it is another essential concept to be an effective citizen, as it builds our understanding of chance and variation in life.

Probability is an important part of any mathematical education. It is a part of mathematics that enriches the subject as a whole by its interactions with other uses of mathematics and mathematical modelling (GAISE Report, 2016).

Understanding probability factors like chance and risk can be essential to a student’s ability to function in society. Some examples include understanding the probability of catching COVID-19 with or without the vaccines, comprehending what a “once in a 100 year event” actually means, and knowing the risks of gambling.

Probability also allows students to develop a range of skills, including the development of computational and mental arithmetic skills. These skills will have more meaning when applied to a context where the students are directly involved in the process, like handling data when throwing dice and completing calculations with these numbers.

Probability can develop students’ critical thinking skills. Interpreting collected data and making probability statements that are undertaken to reach conclusions encourage and allow students to develop these higher order thinking skills, which are also transferable to other areas of the wider curriculum within schools.

GAISE College Report ASA Revision Committee. (2016). Guidelines for Assessment and Instruction in Statistics Education College Report 2016. American Statistical Association. https://www.amstat.org/asa/files/pdfs/GAISE/GaiseCollege_Full.pdf
Illowsky, D. & Dean, B. (2013). Introductory statistics. Openstax. https://d3bxy9euw4e147.cloudfront.net/oscms-prodcms/media/documents/IntroductoryStatistics-OP_LXn0jei.pdf
© University of Southern Queensland
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Teaching Mathematics: Demystifying Statistics and Probability

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