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Ball Toss Probability

Updated: Mar 18

When teaching young children about probability and chance it is really simple to look at the chance of a coin being tossed heads or tails, the likelihood of it raining elephants or of them eating a meal in the next week. What is slightly harder to teach is the probability of an event occurring when there are multiple variables.


I am not talking about purely statistical data that can be analysed such as the chance of it raining on a Monday during term. I am talking more about the Stage 3 concept of increasing the frequency of an event occurring by manipulating the circumstances in which the event occurs. Or the need for students to be able to construct 2-way tables such as where risk and reward are both present within the one table. These concepts can be tricky to teach and difficult for students to grasp as they are theoretical and hypothetical. What students need are practical examples to which they can relate.

To teach chance and probability using a more physical approach, you will need hoops and 3 cones although bean bags and 3 buckets or small circles drawn on concrete work just as well. Position the first cone 1 metre from the students, the next cone 3 metres away and the final cone 5 metres from the students. For each cone moving away from the thrower the points for scoring a goal increase.

So, if a student tosses the hoop around the cone closest to them they score 20 points. If they throw their hoop onto the middle cone they score 40 points and they score 60 points for the cone furthest away. Each student has just 3 chances to score the highest number of points they can – either in succession or by rotating through the group. Giving each student one throw at a time keeps students moving and engaged but can limit their ability to improve their throwing if this skill is also being mastered.

Following the activity students can then discuss whether the risk of throwing and missing the furthest cone was outweighed by the almost certain chance of scoring 20 points. Repeat this activity but this time change the value of the cones to 20 points, 60 points and 200 points. How does changing the possible result influence the student’s choice for which bucket they will throw into?

If resources are limited you could replace the buckets and bean bags or hoops and cones with a single basketball hoop or netball hoop and any available balls could be used. Lines drawn or taped on the ground could mark the 20, 40 and 60 point throwing lines. Alternatively, if resources are plentiful you could have students use both sets of equipment to see if their choices change depending on the apparatus being used and their skill level with these.

In addition to teaching the concept of chance and practicing the Fundamental Movement Skill of throwing this activity is a nice way to introduce discussion around student confidence versus actual ability and their personal level of risk taking or avoidance. This can lead into discussion around peer pressure and other related PDHPE areas including gambling as a form of addiction and why this happens.