Wagering on probability

CCHS students learn the mathematics of gambling

Deb Hurley Brobst
dbrobst@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 5/18/21

“You’re got to know when to hold `em, know when to fold `em,” know when to throw the dice, know when to bet. In math teacher Calvin Berg’s classes at Clear Creek High School, students are …

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Wagering on probability

CCHS students learn the mathematics of gambling

Posted

“You’re got to know when to hold `em, know when to fold `em,” know when to throw the dice, know when to bet.

In math teacher Calvin Berg’s classes at Clear Creek High School, students are learning how to gamble: playing craps, blackjack and roulette. That’s because playing and winning those games are all about mathematical probability.

Berg is continually asking students when they are playing craps, for example, which bet has the better payout based on the ratios and mathematical odds, and how to calculate the probability of getting a specific roll of the dice. The game is fast-paced, and students cheer when they win and boo when they lose.

Berg sent home permission slips with his students to make sure it was OK with parents to teach probability and statistics in this hands-on, somewhat unusual manner. He also continually reminds students that gambling is a form of entertainment, not income, and casinos are set up so the house will win.

He has created a makeshift casino in his classroom with poker chips, a craps table, roulette wheel and blackjack card dispenser.

Berg created the gambling-probability unit because he worked in casinos after college and said math came alive for him as he thought about the math principles involved.

The freshmen, sophomores and juniors in the pre-calculus class played craps on May 13 while the seniors took their final exam. The non-seniors agreed that it’s been fun to learn the games and to figure out how well they will do based on probability. They called the games hands-on learning, making understanding math easier than just filling out worksheets.

The group explained that in a real casino, the casino has the advantage in table games, and they also agreed that gambling was very risky.

“If you don’t play smart,” freshman Collin Hendrickson said, “it’s not going to go well. You have to learn to cut yourself off, so you won’t lose.”

Junior Sean Mauracher added: “Not all days are good. You don’t want to make impulsive decisions.”

Junior Mia Triplett called the gambling math lessons something she’s never done in a school class, noting that calculating the probabilities was much more complex than she imagined.

Sophomore Breyda Spinner called the unit a great way to end the school year.

“It’s interesting knowing that you can play better when you know probability,” she said.

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