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September 7, 2009 / Ben Chun

What Can You Do With This: Fortune

One of my long-time favorite bloggers from back when I was a math teacher, Dan Meyer, whose blog dy/dan deservedly blew up and won hella awards a couple years ago, does this cool thing called WCYDWT. It stands for “What Can You Do With This” and in these posts he puts up a photo or video and asks how it could be used in the classroom. At this point he’s got 20+ good ones up there and I think his original intent is finally getting through to me:

At the very least, we will find in these (high-res, DRM-free) media a better way to introduce material than whatever “real world” contrivance your textbook recommends. At best, we will train our eyes to find our content areas in the world around us, becoming better teachers in the process.

I spent a good part of the day today laying around in the park with awesome people and not building an assignment that I couldn’t quite get excited about. As it turned from sunny to breezy to time for dinner, nothing had hit me. Then we ate, and paid, and finally I got what I didn’t know I was waiting for:

fortune

So I know what I’m doing with it and I just started writing up the assignment, but in the spirit of dy/dan let’s ask: What can you do with this?

4 Comments

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  1. Elissa / Sep 7 2009 8:46 pm

    Totally guessing but are we looking for a pattern in the numbers? Determining what number comes next? Trying to figure out where that last 18 fits in?

  2. David Radcliffe / Sep 7 2009 8:48 pm

    I dunno. These are lottery numbers, so you could use them in a probability lesson. Pick 6 winning numbers, then pass around a bag of fortune cookies. How many students will match at least one of the numbers? What is the likelihood that a student will match two or more numbers?

  3. Jake / Sep 8 2009 2:00 am

    I’d try to do something with probability and time, as the fortune references both. For instance, if you think that number is lucky and play it exclusively, does it become more likely that you will win the lottery? Do the numbers that are not yours get “used up” giving you better chances that this one will be a winner? Will the lottery win come to you in due time if you just wait long enough?

    This seems like a great way to show that our brains sometimes really want to believe something that’s just plain wrong.

  4. Ben Chun / Sep 8 2009 4:44 pm

    Yes, the lottery numbers lead to probability and depending on how you present the story of your relationship to dinners that culminate with soothsaying via baked goods or the consumption thereof or bets related to the payment for said meal, this could be a reasonable lead-in to such a lesson.

    However, I teach computer science, and would be stealing all the fun from our statistics teacher if I were to embark down a path that let the cat out of the bag in week 3 of school with regard to dependent and independent events.

    The story here for me is really about how this scrap of paper and more importantly the words on it have come to be inside my dessert. Unlike an almond or cherry or chocolate chip or any other equally edible and non-abstract part of a cookie, the fortune requires work beyond cooking. Someone, somewhere, is employed not only to think up and type up these anonymous predictions but worse yet has to invent lucky numbers for the lottery. I would hate that job.

    So leaving aside the obvious questions about how many numbers to include and how as a fortune cookie manufacturer you determine the correct number of different locales for which to sell different lottery number variations, there is the burning and obvious question: HOW DO YOU GET A RANDOM NUMBER?

    And this could go as deep as you like, launching us into all sorts of digressions about the crucial relationship between randomness and certain security algorithms, or philosophical questions about determinism and free will, or entropy and the thermodynamic fate of the universe, but for my purposes today it stopped at the method Math.random() which is included in the standard Java distribution.

    The assignment I built around this picture is called LotteryPlayer and it’s intended to be a simple way to review the use of variables and loops.

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