Quick Look
Grade Level: 5 (35)
Time Required: 30 minutes
Expendable Cost/Group: US $0.00
This activity uses a nonexpendable (reusable) LEGO MINDSTORMS robot kit and software; see the Materials List for details.
Group Size: 3
Activity Dependency: None
Subject Areas: Data Analysis and Probability
Summary
Students learn about probability through a LEGO® MINDSTORMS® based activity that simulates a game of "rockpaperscissors." The LEGO robot mimics the outcome of random game scenarios in order to help students gain a better understanding of events that follow reallife random phenomenon, such as bridge failures, weather forecasts and automobile accidents. Students learn to connect keywords such as certainty, probable, unlikely and impossibility to realworld engineering applications.Engineering Connection
Engineers employ probability in various realworld applications. The concept of probability is used by risk engineers on a regular basis when creating bids (or, formal cost estimates) for projects. Engineers usually bid on a project, such as stadium renovation, building an office building or retail complex, or building a new bridge or highway, on the assumption that their firm has an equal chance of winning the bid. Structural engineers employ probability by assessing the likelihood of a structure, such as a building, bridge, highway or tunnel, to undergo failure. Knowledge of probability is a necessary skill to be an effective engineer and practice engineering because it allows for the creation of failureresistant structures that better develop our physical surroundings and, ultimately, improve the lives of people in our society.
Learning Objectives
After this activity, students should be able to:
 Define probability.
 List examples of how probability is used in realworld engineering applications.
 Identify and explain possible outcomes and probability associated with each outcome.
Educational Standards
Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K12 science,
technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.
All 100,000+ K12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN),
a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).
In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics;
within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.
Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.
All 100,000+ K12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).
In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.
Common Core State Standards  Math

Multiply or divide to solve word problems involving multiplicative comparison, e.g., by using drawings and equations with a symbol for the unknown number to represent the problem, distinguishing multiplicative comparison from additive comparison.
(Grade
4)
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Develop a probability model and use it to find probabilities of events. Compare probabilities from a model to observed frequencies; if the agreement is not good, explain possible sources of the discrepancy.
(Grade
7)
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International Technology and Engineering Educators Association  Technology

Use appropriate symbols, numbers, and words to communicate key ideas about technological products and systems.
(Grades
3 
5)
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State Standards
New York  Math

List the possible outcomes for a singleevent experiment
(Grade
5)
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Record experiment results using fractions/ratios
(Grade
5)
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Create a sample space and determine the probability of a single event, given a simple experiment (e.g., rolling a number cube)
(Grade
5)
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Materials List
Each group needs:
 PreAssessment Quiz, RPS Probability Worksheet and PostAssessment Quiz, one per student
To share with the class:
 for class demo: 1 quarter (coin)
 LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT robot, such as the NXT Base Set (5003402) for $159.98 at https://shop.education.lego.com/legoed/enUS/catalog/product.jsp?productId=5003402& isSimpleSearch=false&ProductLine=NXT
 LEGO MINDSTORMS Education NXT Software 2.1, available as a single license (2000080) for $39.97 or a site license (5003413) for $271.96 at https://shop.education.lego.com/legoed/enUS/catalog/product.jsp?productId=prod120017&isSimpleSearch=false&ProductLine=LEGO+MINDSTORMS+Education+NXT
 computer, loaded with NXT 2.1 software
 preprogrammed NXT brick (comes in the education base set), loaded with the program rock_paper_scissors.rbt
Worksheets and Attachments
Visit [www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/nyu_rockps_activity1] to print or download.More Curriculum Like This
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PreReq Knowledge
Ability to perform division and an understanding of the concept of ratios and the basic concept of probability and possible outcomes given certain scenarios.
Introduction/Motivation
(Quarter Flip Demo: In front of the class, flip a quarter to demonstrate the probability of a quarter landing on heads vs. tails.)
What is the probability that this quarter will land on tails if I flip the quarter 10 times?
(Write the following on the classroom board: 2 green marbles, 3 yellow marbles and 4 blue marbles.)
What is the probability of picking a blue marble if you put all these marbles in a bag and draw from the bag? (Answer: In ratio form, 4/9.)
In order to understand probability, we need to understand what is meant by this word. Probability is defined as a chance that an event will occur. We can mathematically represent probability in equation form. (Write Equation 1 on the board).
Probability is simply a ratio between desired outcome and total outcome. In other words, the desired outcome can never be greater than the total outcome. If the rockpaperscissors (RPS) robot is asked, "What is the probability of the robot throwing a rock?", the desired outcome is rock, which is 1 since only one rock is present, and the total outcome is 3, since rock, paper and scissors are present. Therefore, the probability of the robot throwing a rock can also be stated in equation form. (Write Equation 2 on the board.)
To make this activity fun for you, we have programmed a LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT robot (see Figure 1) to help you collect data and learn about probability. We'll call it the RPS robot, to represent rockpaperscissors.
By using the RPS robot, we can associate probability to an event that is random. Just as in real life, probability occurs in a random manner (car accidents, building collapses, death, etc.); the outcome of the RPS robot is also random since a random number is generated by the robot. Also in keeping with real life in which random events cannot be known for certainty, the RPS robot's output (whether it throws rock, paper or scissors) cannot be determined either—it can only be guessed. Let's get started learning about probability!
Procedure
Before the Activity
 Gather materials and make copies of the PreAssessment Quiz, RPS Probability Worksheet and PostAssessment Quiz, one each per student.
 Build the LEGO "RPS" (rockpaperscissors) robot provided with the base kit components, following instructions in The LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT Idea Book. See Figure 1 and the additional notes in the next section.
 Download the NXT rock_paper_scissors.rbt software onto the classroom computer.
 Charge all NXT battery packs, and test the robot.
The RPS Robot
This activity is centered around the NXT RPS robot (see Figure 2); so it is important to demonstrate to students the components of the robot and the mechanics of how the robot functions.
Download and execute the NXT program "rock_paper_scissors.rbt" and go through a few trial runs of the RPS game simulation.
Demonstrate to students how the RPS robot functions by introducing its components, as shown in Figure 3. Each component (the rock, paper and scissors) is attached to a motor, and a touch sensor controls when to "throw." For example, "rock" is represented by a LEGO NXT wheel. The touch sensor located on the side of the LEGO robot (see Figure 2) controls the output of the robot.
Once the touch sensor is pressed, the robot generates a random number, one, two or three, and assigns this to one of the motors. Depending on which motor is randomly chosen, the resulting output is the corresponding rock, paper or scissors object.
Press the touch sensor once; then, after the robot "throws" an outcome, the motor returns to its default position as shown in Figure 3. You can keep repeating this procedure until the program is manually terminated or the battery is unplugged. Demonstrating this action in front of class helps students to visually notice what is happening once the touch sensor is pressed.
Point out to students that there is no way to guess the future outcome, since all of the outcomes are based on random numbers.
With the Students
 Before starting the activity, administer the preassessment quiz.
 Conduct the quarter flip demo and present students with the Introduction/Motivation information.
 Hand out the worksheets.
 Ask the students: Who is familiar with the game rockpaperscissors? Who can explain how it works to the rest of the class? (As necessary, review and/or demonstrate how the game is played with a few student volunteers.)
 Familiarize students with the operation of the RPS robot. Demonstrate a few times. (Refer to the details in the section above.)
 Instruct students to fill out the worksheet table while the robot is asked to throw a rock, paper or scissors 10 times. To do this, students simply make tally marks in the appropriate column of the table for each trial event (row) of pressing the robot's touch sensor. Point out to students that the outcomes are random.
 Have students answer the worksheet questions.
 Ask students to state, in ratio form, the outcome of rock. The outcome should be 1/3, since three total possible outcomes and one desired outcome exist. (Refer to Equation 1 and refer to the definition of probability as stated in the Introduction/Motivation section.)
 Remind students that when the quarter was flipped at the beginning of the activity, the probability of it landing on tails was the same as the probability of landing on heads; both had a 50% probability (one desired outcome over two total outcomes). Likewise, in this activity, the probability of throwing a rock is the same as the probability of throwing a scissor or paper. The probability is 1/3 for each.
 Note: Typically, 10 trials are not enough to generate an outcome of 1/3 for each event, but 10 trials are performed in this activity in the interest of time. To obtain results closer to 1/3, increase the number of trials (as time permits). Doing 100 would be an ideal number of trials.
 Go over question #4 with students. They are asked to imagine that rock is Firm Rock, scissors is Firm Scissors, and paper is Firm Paper (serving to illustrate that each of the robot motors represents a firm or a company). If the firms are competing (via the bidding process) to obtain a job to build a stadium, for instance, all three companies should have an equal probability of getting the job.
 Review with students what has been accomplished in the activity. Discuss why results were slightly different among groups. (Answer: The robot throws out random numbers.)
 Conclude by administering the postassessment quiz. Or, as a class ask and discuss the quiz questions.
Vocabulary/Definitions
certain: Event that has 100% probability of happening.
impossible: No chance of happening; 0% probability.
outcome: The end result.
probability: A chance that an event will occur.
probable : A good chance of happening; likely.
uncertainty: Event that is unpredictable.
unlikely: A small chance of happening.
Assessment
PreActivity Assessment
PreQuiz: Have students complete the fivequestion PreAssessment Quiz to gauge their base understanding of the subject of probability.
Activity Embedded Assessment
Worksheet: Have students complete their own RPS Worksheets while working in their teams. During the activity, monitor students' progress on the worksheet sections. At the end of class, collect the worksheets and evaluate students on their mastery of the subject of probability.
PostActivity Assessment
PostQuiz: Administer the fivequestion PostAssessment Quiz (nearly the same as the prequiz) and review students' answers compared to their prelesson answers to measure their comprehension of the subject of probability. Alternatively, as a class ask and discuss the quiz questions.
Copyright
© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2011 Polytechnic Institute of New York UniversityContributors
Akim Faisal, Janet YowellSupporting Program
AMPS GK12 Program, Polytechnic Institute of New York UniversityAcknowledgements
This activity was developed by the Applying Mechatronics to Promote Science (AMPS) Program funded by National Science Foundation GK12 grant no. 0741714. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the NSF, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.
Additional support was provided by the Central Brooklyn STEM Initiative (CBSI), funded by six philanthropic organizations.
Last modified: January 15, 2022
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