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Parkside teacher explores mathematics of Plinko

By Kevin Kelley


It’s one of the most popular pricing games on “The Price Is Right.”

In Plinko, a contestant drops a chip through a pegboard, hoping it will end up in one of the top-dollar slots at the bottom.

Is Plinko truly a a game of chance, or are certain chip release spots more advantageous than others?

Bridget Royce, a fifth-grade mathematics teacher at Parkside Intermediate School in Westlake, recently co-authored an article that examined how the mathematics of Plinko can be used as a teaching tool.

“Dropping In on the Math of Plinko” appeared in the November 2013 issue of Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, a publication of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Co-authored with Nirmala Naresh, an assistant professor of mathematics at Miami University, the article originated as a capstone project Royce undertook during her senior year at the Oxford, Ohio, school.

The article describes how lesson plans can use Plinko to teach math concepts.

“Documented Plinko-related mathematical investigations have highlighted high school students’ notions of Pascal’s triangle, experimental and theoretical probability, and expected value,” Royce and Naresh state.

Their lesson plans for middle school students fit with the coming Common Core State Standards, which they note call for students to use activities and simulations to make predictions and to gather experimental data.

“Plinko-based mathematical explorations allow students to use technology to generate simulations and employ the data to make informed predictions and inferences,” they write.

In the lesson plans described by Royce and Naresh, students created simplified Plinko boards with only three release points and three slots – labeled A, B and C – with the center slot labeled with the highest dollar amount. After dropping their chips several times, they recorded their data and shared their results. They also charted the exact path every chip took from top to bottom.

So, did they find that any single release point was more advantageous?

“Before the Plinko lesson enactment, many students had chosen A and C as their preferred slots,” the article stated. “In the post-lesson enactment, a majority of students preferred slot B. Their supporting evidence were the experimental data, the probability, and the number of paths identified in their charts.”

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