Luck? I Don’t Think So

Chance or luck? Which one is involved when guessing what side of a coin will land on or gambling at the roulette table? Turns out there is more maths involved than you would think. Probability is an aspect of maths that is used within our daily lives and influences the decisions we make. It also encompasses parts of Liping Ma’s fundamental principles.

Essentially, probability is “how likely something is to happen” (Maths is Fun, 2018), and this is the core idea of the concept. Though it is important to highlight the fact that we are surrounded by uncertainty and to predict everything that will happen is 100% impossible as well as it would be quite dull if we knew everything that was going to happen (Eastaway and Askew, 2010). Probability can give us a guess at the likelihood of the event happening on a scale based on the facts that are available to us (Haylock and Manning, 2014). There are various ways that we describe the probability of an event happening, highlighting during the lecture on probability;

  • Percentages
  • Decimals
  • Likely/unlikely
  • Good chance/no chance

Now think about how often you use these words during the day. It can be quite often when you think about it; there is 34% chance it will rain today, or it is likely that it will rain.

There are various methods to work out probability which links into Ma’s principle of “multiple perspectives” (Ma, 1999), as there are different processes that can be used and they are used depending on the situations/maths problem the children are confronted with. One technique that can be used is taking the “number of ways [an event] can happen” then divide it by the “total number of outcomes” (Maths is Fun, 2018). Use the example of a dice and the question ‘what is the probability that I roll a 6?’. There is only 1 way this event can happen and there are 6 sides to a dice so there are 6 possible outcomes – thus the probability of rolling a 6 is . This way means children are working with fractions and can even go on to converting the answer to a decimal or percentage answer – using other aspects of maths.

Another common way of working out probability is using a probability scale. This method of working out probability encourages children to use the terminology of probability that is part of the pupils “everyday language” (Haylock and Manning, 2014). Children can then progress to using a numbered probability scale to measure the events being questioned – for example, 0 stands for something that is completely impossible to happen and 100 as the opposite (Haylock and Manning, 2014). By using a numbered scale connects with the idea of cardinal and ordinal numbers – the scale has the numbers in a specific order.

Asides from being used to predict outcomes in our everyday lives, probability is applied to the industry of gambling. Personally, I had not realised the amount of maths that could be involved in gambling and thought it was primarily due to luck or less honest machines – linking into the idea of “gambler’s fallacy” (Bellos, 2010, p.322). Though it was the example of Stefan Mandel (a Romanian economist) that really made me think that maths was very much involved in gambling. In 1964, Mandel created an algorithm that generated all the possibilities that would get him five out of six numbers correct – which would win him second prize in the Romanian lottery (Bellos, 2010). He then progressed to assisting Australian businessmen to win the Virginia Lottery that was worth millions of dollars – using his algorithm to generate all the possible outcomes. This example completely blew my mind as using maths helped Mandel win the lottery which I had previously thought was completely random and draw of the luck.

Probability is an aspect of math that can be used by everyone and is ingrained in our daily lives. It influences the decisions we make – from whether to bring a coat in case it rains to winning at a casino. Probability assists us in gauging the likelihood of events happening in our lives – giving the unknown some structure and perspective.



Bellos, A. (2010) Alex’s Adventures in Numberland London: Bloomsbury

Haylock, D. and Manning, R. (2014) Mathematics Explained for Primary Teachers. 5th edn. London: SAGE

Ma, L. (1999) Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics – Teachers’ Understanding of Fundamental Mathematics in China and The United States. London: Routledge

Maths is fun [Online] Available at: (Accessed 20th October 2018)

2 thoughts on “Luck? I Don’t Think So

  1. Jonathan Brown

    Hi Amy,

    I was really interested in the idea of calculating all of the possible lottery tickets. Unfortunately, by my calculations it would cost a little under £600 000 000 to buy every lottery ticket!


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