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Probability of Winning the Lottery

The jackpot payout for the lottery continues to grow as the new Mega Millions and the Powerball lottery games gain popularity. It is now possible for an individual to win millions of dollars by correctly picking a lineup of 6 or 7 numbers from a set of approximately 50 numbers. The overall chances of winning a prize are very small; however, many are willing to risk the $1 ticket price in order for a shot at the grand prize. This unit will look at the statistical probability of winning money from playing the lottery to identify if trends or patterns exist in lottery results.

During this unit, high school students will investigate a real-world application of probability by determining the probability of winning the lottery. Students will be introduced to the counting principle, permutations, and combinations, which will later be used to calculate one’s chances of winning various payout amounts in the state lottery game. Students will also conduct a computer simulation of the lottery game to determine if any patterns or trends arise. This activity will also be supplemented by a reading in psychological research on our inclination to observe patterns in our environment, even if they do not exist.

Jessica Langholtz
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