Maths one of the most important skills we could learn, but despite decades of government intervention and incentives, interest in studying it is fading in the UK.
While entry to the subject at A-level is said to be falling, it is one of the bottom five university course choices for female undergraduates. And as popular media perpetuates the idea that it is OK to hate maths, to fail at it (because it’s portrayed as a nerdy subject) some experts are concerned that youngsters are getting mixed signals.
But this drop-off in mathematical interest could be having a significant impact on everyday lives. Households in the UK are facing a crisis of numeracy, with a 2017 study finding that 49% of adults do not have a functional understanding of mathematics. This lack of understanding could be costing them £460 a year just through financial mismanagement, while the cost of this lowered productivity is thought to be much higher for businesses. The best way to improve things and stem the flow is at a grassroots level – in schools across the country.
Maths in school
While students of the past were focused more on algebraic equations and solving for x, changes to the curriculum have brought evolution. Now with financial education added to the teaching schedule, there is a concerted effort to apply what they are being taught to everyday situations.
Calculating how much to tip in a restaurant, whether that multi-buy discount makes a worthwhile saving, how compound interest affects loan payments – these are things that half the adult population cannot manage that are now being brought into the classroom. But for a twelve-year-old, these are still abstract ideas; things they won’t have to do until they’re grown up, and that seems a lifetime away. However, mathematics has a plethora of fun applications too, and there are other ways to sharpen those same skills.
The probability of chance
The games found in casinos – roulette, poker, blackjack etc – are all based on mathematic principles including probability, statistics and ratios. It’s why there are so many films and articles about people who can beat the system through mathematics and analytics. Younger pupils being introduced to topics such as probability and percentages may find that playing games of chance aids their understanding of the subject. Calculating the house edge, hit frequency and odds can even help educate college students about responsible gambling.
All casino games employ some element of probability for the gambler. How likely is it that you will get the card you need? Which number is most likely to be rolled in craps? Let’s take an in-depth look at the maths involved in playing a hand of blackjack with a single deck.
The player is dealt two face up cards – in our example, a 3 and a 7 – and the dealer has one face up – a 9 – and one face down. With a maximum of 21, simple arithmetic tells the player that they cannot bust if they draw another card. They hit, and get a 6. Their total is now 16. There are 5 cards that would be safe – A, 2, 3, 4, 5 – and 8 cards which would cause them to go bust. Obviously in a deck, there are multiples of these cards, the 3, 7, and 9 are already in play, so the probability of a successful hit is 19/52, and a bust is 30/52. The logical move here is to stick…
…However, the dealer has a 9. If they have an A, that gives them a maximum score of 20, which would give them a win. In fact, an 8 or higher would give them a win and there’s a 27/52 chance of them having that card. There’s also a 21/52 of them having a low enough card that would force them to hit – as a casino usually states that dealers stick at 17 – and then their chances of going bust increase.
What would you do?
If this was used in a classroom, by this point in the ‘game’, students have calculated four different percentages, and adjusted for the cards already on the table.
This real-world scenario is much more fun than answering questions on a paper, right?
Calculating casino game odds also offers a real-world insight into multiplication and ratios, and looking at the house edge shows how percentages can be used to find what profit casinos take from their games. There is even a chance for teachers to use online casinos for lessons on probability and statistics.
Today’s online casinos are more engaging and immersive than ever, with high-quality graphics and quick speeds enabling players to get involved in their favourite games anytime, anywhere. At the most exciting online casino on the market you can play blackjack for free if you want to test out how useful the game might be as the basis of a maths lesson.
Students regularly investigate the difference between theoretical and actual probability using experiments like rolling a die 50 times and recording the results. Using a casino-style setup in the classroom could replicate these experiments in a more exciting way and lead into discussions about responsible gambling.
Beyond the classroom
There are also opportunities to explore the mathematics behind the games. Teaching risk evaluation using data and figures – betting odds in this particular case – could then be applied to other situations. The risks in a casino could be compared to the risks in a business venture. Students could compile data from a test at an actual casino, analysing statistics and probability to derive classroom versions of the games they observe, learning how the odds are set out.
The type of mathematics behind casino games comes into the curriculum before GCSEs, but there are many layers to it, especially where analysing statistics is involved. By learning this through the real-life application of casino games, it could bolster their interest in the subject at A-Level.
Mathematics has such wide applications beyond that which most people learn in the classroom. Just like English, there are fewer tangible career prospects and seemingly abstract applications of the knowledge you gain at GCSE level. When studying English makes you wonder if you really need to quote Shakespeare at your next job interview, more advanced topics in Mathematics too have students scratching their head for a common use.
Students struggle with the abstract nature of the topic and not enough are going on to study it further, either at A-Level or in universities. Perhaps it is time to start thinking outside of the box, outside of the classroom, and inside of the casinos.