Course Description


Welcome to Chance!

Chance is an unconventional math course. The standard elementary math course develops a body of mathematics in a systematic way and gives some highly simplified real-world examples in the hope of suggesting the importance of the subject. In the course Chance, we will choose serious applications of probability and statistics and make these the focus of the course, developing concepts in probability and statistics only to the extent necessary to understand the applications. The goal is to make you better able to come to your own conclusions about news stories involving chance issues. Previous news stories have covered topics including:

We will start by reading a newspaper account of a current topic. In most cases this will be the account in the New York Times. We will read other accounts of the subject as appropriate, including articles in journals like Chance, Science, Nature, and Scientific American, and original journal articles. These articles will be supplemented by readings on the basic probability and statistics concepts relating to the topic. We will use computer simulations and statistical packages to better illustrate the relevant theoretical concepts.


The class will differ from traditional math classes in organization as well as in content: The class meetings will emphasize group discussions, rather than the more traditional lecture format. Students will keep journals to record their thoughts and questions. Homework will include computer assignments in addition to assignments from the text. There will be a major final project instead of a final exam.

Scheduled meetings

The class meets from 11:00 to 11:50 MWF in Jadwin 343. Due to the interactive nature of the course, you will be expected to come to class, and engage whole-heartedly in the discussions. Since regular class periods will concentrate on discussions of current news, we will hold weekly precepts for review of material in the text and questions about homework, use of the computer, or anything else relating to the course.

Office Hours

You can find us at office hours or arrange to talk to us at another time. Office hours are:

J. Laurie Snell: Wednesday 2:00-3:00, Fine 1008, 258-6469,

Linda Green: Sunday 2:00-3:00, Fine 1206, 258-4192,

Joseph Muscat: Tuesday 2:30-3:30, Fine 1106, 258-4222,

Discussion groups

To give everyone an opportunity to dig into the issues at hand, we will regularly break into small groups to discuss questions for about 15 or 20 minutes. Each discussion group will have four members including:

We will initially assign groups at random and change the groups periodically.

Texts and Other Resources

The required text for the course is Statistics, 2nd edition, by Freedman, Pisani, Purves, and Adhikari, (FPPA) available at the University Bookstore.

The main computer software that we will use is the statistical package JMP "Jump". The current version is 3.1.1, which is installed on the Courseware Server.

If you are a Macintosh user, you can access JMP version 3.1.1 on a computer in any student Mac cluster (for example, in the library of Fine Hall or on the B-level of Firestone). Find it by double clicking on the Courseware icon and then on the JMP folder, and start it up by double clicking on the diamond-shaped icon with a picture of a person jumping. JMP version 2.0 is also available on the Special Software Server, but version 3.1.1 is better.

If you are a PC user, you can find JMP for Windows on the Courseware Server in any student PC cluster (for example, Green Hall or McCosh 59).

We will hand out a brief introoduction to JMP, and more complete documentation is on reserve in Fine Hall Library.

The Chance course has its own site on the World Wide Web: This site includes Chance News, which abstracts our favorite newspaper and journal articles. We will also be posting all handouts and course materials here.

We find many of our newspaper articles using Lexis-Nexis, a powerful on-line search system. Lexis-Nexis is available to any student with an ordinary CIT computer account. You can reach it by logging on the library and looking under the Social Sciences heading. We encourage you to try it out, especially later in the semester when you are working on final projects.


Weekly homework assignments will include readings from FPPA, selected review exercises and occasional computer problems. Homework will be handed in on Mondays.


Each participant should keep a journal for the course, which is separate from the weekly homework assignments. A good journal should thoughtfully answer any specific questions asked. In addition, there should be evidence that you have spent some time thinking about things that you weren't specifically asked about. This might take the form of: finding and commenting on news articles about topics relevant to the course; asking us challenging questions; making connections between what went on in class and experiences in your own life; going to a casino and winning a lot of money. You might also use your journal to write short summaries of what went on in class, describe problems that you don't understand and concepts that you finally do understand, or make suggestions for improving the course.

In writing in your journal, exposition is important. If you are presenting the answer to a question, explain what the question is. If you are giving an argument, explain what the point is before you launch into it. What you should aim for is something that could communicate to a friend or a colleague a coherent idea of what you have been thinking and doing in the course.

You are encouraged to cooperate with each other in working on anything in the course, but what you put in your journal should be you. If it is something that has emerged from work with other people, write down who you have worked with. Ideas that come from other people should be given proper attribution. If you have referred to sources other than the texts for the course, cite them.

Your journal should be kept on loose leaf paper. Journals will be collected periodically to be read and commented on. If they are on loose leaf paper, you can hand in those parts which have not yet been read, and continue to work on further entries. Pages should be numbered consecutively and except when otherwise instructed, you should hand in only those pages which have not previously been read. Write your name on each page, and, in the upper right hand corner of the first page you hand in each time, list the pages you have handed in (e.g. [7,12] on page 7 will indicate that you have handed in 6 pages numbered seven to twelve).

Journals will be collected and read roughly every two weeks. Tentative due dates are as follows:

Final project

We will not have a final exam for the course, but in its place, you will undertake a major project. Projects can be done individually or in groups of 2 or 3. The project may be a paper investigating more deeply some topic we touch on lightly in class. Alternatively, you could design and carry out your own study. Or you might choose to do a computer-based project. To give you some ideas, a list of possible projects will be circulated. However, you are also encouraged to come up with your own ideas for projects.

Chance Fair

At the end of the course we will hold a Chance Fair, where you will have a chance to present your project to the class as a whole, and to demonstrate your mastery of applied probability by playing various games of chance. The Fair will be held during the time for the scheduled final exam.


Your grade will be determined by your homework , including FPPA and computer assignments (35%), journals and class participation (35%), and final project: (30%).