This St. Patrick’s Day, your fifth grader probably isn’t going to fall for those “leprechaun gold” surprises that worked so well in kindergarten. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun—and math learning—on this holiday. In fact, it just so happens that “luck” is not just a folk idea. It is a math question, too! In fifth grade and beyond, one important strand in math standards is a fancy word for luck—“probability.” The concept is a building block for later work in a variety of math and science fields, and now’s a great time to start getting comfortable with it. So here’s a discovery game that puts some “luck” to the test:
Lucky Leprechaun Game Chart (make a 6x6 grid and label the outside edges 1-6 like in the picture below)
26 small “lucky” pieces in yellow, and 26 in orange (colored candies work great!)
Pen or pencil
What You Do:
This is a game for two players. Have them sit side by side with the Lucky Leprechaun Game Chart in front of them. Assign each player a color—yellow or orange—and give each player her 26 pieces. (Together, you’ve got 52 pieces of “luck”—enough for a whole year!)
Players will take turns rolling dice and tallying. Let’s say, for example, one person rolls a 2 and 3, which total 5. She’ll place one candy on that number. By the “luck” of the roll, you may end up with lots of candies on a particular number, or just a few, right?
Before you launch your game fully, have each player take a guess: In 52 rounds, which number will be the luckiest? When the game is over, there will be two ways to win: a “shamrock circle” winner is the one with the most candies on her lucky number. The “pot of gold” prize goes to the person who picked the number with the highest total amount of candy on it at the end. That winner gets to keep all the candies that landed on that number, too (but do feel free to adjust your own regulations!).
Feel free to play this game for several rounds, the more the better. Within the first few games, watch carefully: your child should start seeing a pattern which happens to be a classic example of mathematical probability theory! It works like this: when you roll a pair of dice, there are 36 possible combinations, which can be shown in the chart below (note: we’ve left some squares blank. That’s on purpose—have your child fill them in!). And guess what? The most common sum—7 out of 36—is the number 7! The “probability” of rolling 7 is therefore 7/36--slightly greater than 1/6.
So here’s some math fun for your fifth grade competitor: let the leprechauns teach us a lesson here! If you want the best shot at winning, you can do more than just wish for “luck.” Use your math mind and follow the concept of probability. Go for that 7 and see what you get!
Julie Williams, M.A. Education, taught middle and high school History and English for seventeen years. Since then, she has volunteered in elementary classrooms while raising her two sons and earning a master's in school administration. She has also been a leader in her local PTA.