Playing Dice and Children’s Numeracy

Posted on December 5, 2007  Comments (10)

My father, Willaim Hunter, a professor of statistics and of Chemical Engineering at the University of Wisconsin, was a guest speaker for my second grade class (I think it was 2nd) to teach us about numbers – using dice. He gave every kid a die. I remember he asked all the kids what number do you think will show up when you roll the die. 6 was the answer from about 80% of them (which I knew was wrong – so I was feeling very smart).

Then he had the kids roll the die and he stood up at the front to create a frequency distribution of what was actually rolled. He was all ready for them to see how wrong they were and learn it was just as likely for any of the numbers on the die to be rolled. But as he asked each kid about what they rolled something like 5 out of the first 6 said they rolled a 6. He then modified the exercise a bit and had the kid come up to the front and roll the die on the teachers desk. Then my Dad read the number off the die and wrote on the chart 🙂

This nice blog post, reminded me of that story: Kids’ misconceptions about numbers — and how they fix them

in the real study, conducted by John Opfer and Rober Siegler, the kids used lines with just 0 and 1000 labeled. They were then given numbers within that range and asked to draw a vertical line through the number line where each number fell (they used a new, blank number line each time). The figure above represents (in red) the average results for a few of the numbers used in the study. As you can see, the second graders are way off, especially for lower numbers. They typically placed the number 150 almost halfway across the number line! Fourth graders perform nearly as well as adults on the task, putting all the numbers in just about the right spot.

But there’s a pattern to the second-graders’ responses. Nearly all the kids (93 were tested) understood that 750 was a larger number than 366; they just squeezed too many large numbers on the far-right side of the number line. In fact, their results show more of a logarithmic pattern than the proper linear pattern.

10 Responses to “Playing Dice and Children’s Numeracy”

  1. 8-10 Year Olds Research Published in Royal Socity Journal » Curious Cat Science Blog
    December 24th, 2010 @ 1:29 pm

    Absolutely great stuff. This is how to engage kids in science. Engage their inquisitive minds. Let them get involved. Let them experiment..

  2. Naturally Curious Children » Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog
    January 1st, 2011 @ 2:43 pm

    I write this blog because when I was a kid I was curious and had parents who gave me enough interesting answers and interesting resources to build on that curiosity…

  3. Numeracy: The Educational Gift That Keeps on Giving » Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog
    February 19th, 2012 @ 8:24 am

    […] I think. I see, how helpful it is to have a good understanding of numbers. And the costs of not developing a facility with numbers leads to many bad decisions, it seems to […]

  4. Anonymous
    September 14th, 2012 @ 1:00 am

    Neat to have this with the kids in mind. Engage the mind and produce the great next generation.

  5. Business 901 Podcast with Me: Deming’s Management Ideas Today » Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog
    November 13th, 2012 @ 5:05 am

    […] William Hunter, my father. Link to paper with Easaw Chacko on Building a Quality Movement within a developing nation, 1972. Developing Children’s Numeracy Using Dice […]

  6. Math Education Results Show China, Singapore, Korea and Japan Leading » Curious Cat Science and Math Blog
    March 4th, 2014 @ 9:01 pm

    2012 PISA results for the math portion: 1 Singapore, 2 Korea, 3 Japan, 5 Switzerland, 7 Estonia, 8 Finland

  7. Analysis Must be Implemented by People to Provide Value » Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog
    March 25th, 2014 @ 5:57 am

    The greatest statistical analysis is nothing if it can’t be implemented by people…

  8. Who Inspires Your Management Thinking and Action? » Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog
    January 22nd, 2015 @ 7:04 am

    […] an early age I learned to experiment, appreciate and understand data, respect people and continually improve. These lessons were a natural part of growing up in our […]

  9. Applying Improvement Concepts and Tools to Your Daily Life » Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog
    July 7th, 2015 @ 5:46 am

    […] My father applied these ideas in our family life and so naturally they formed my way of thinking. At the core was a focus on experimentation and focusing on what was important. It is easy to spend a lot of time on things that really are not that important and questioning if the actions we are taking is really what we should be doing based on the most important aims was a natural part of how we thought growing up. In order to experiment effectively you need to be able to understand data and draw appropriate conclusions (post on an experience with my father as a child: Playing Dice and Children’s Numeracy). […]

  10. Getting an Early Appreciation for Deming’s Ideas « The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog
    May 20th, 2016 @ 10:23 am

    […] It is great to get an early start viewing the world systemically and with an understanding of variation. I know, I had such an early start with my father, Bill Hunter. I still remember his lesson to my 2nd grade class on variation taught with each of us rolling dice. […]

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