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A potential for learning probability in young children

Falk, R., Falk, R., & Levin, I.
Educational Studies in Mathematics

Sixty-one children, from 4 to 11 years old, were presented with two sets, each containing blue and yellow elements. Each time, one colour was pointed out as the payoff colour (POC). The child had to choose the set from which he or she would draw at random a POC element in order to be rewarded. The sets were of varying sizes with different proportions of the two colours. The problem was to select the higher of the two probabilities. Three kinds of materials were used; Pairs of urns with blue and yellow beads, pairs of roulettes divided into blue and yellow sectors, and pairs of spinning tops, likewise divided into two colours. Roughly around the age of six, children started to select the greater of the two probabilities systematically. The dominant error was selecting the set with the greater number of POC elements. Verbal concepts of probability and chance were explored and some 'egocentric' thought processes were described. The study indicates that probability concepts could be introduced into school teaching even in the first grades. The deterministic orientation in the instruction for young ages should be attenuated, permitting concepts of uncertainty right from the beginning.