 # Using Simulation to Estimate a Probability

Related Topics:
Lesson Plans and Worksheets for Grade 7
Lesson Plans and Worksheets for all Grades

Examples, videos, and solutions to help Grade 7 students learn simulation as a method for estimating probabilities that can be used for problems in which it is difficult to collect data by experimentation or by developing theoretical probability models.

### Lesson 10 Student Outcomes

• Students learn simulation as a method for estimating probabilities that can be used for problems in which it is difficult to collect data by experimentation or by developing theoretical probability models.
• Students learn how to perform simulations to estimate probabilities.
• Students use various devices to perform simulations (e.g., coin, number cube, cards).
• Students compare estimated probabilities from simulations to theoretical probabilities.

### Lesson 10 Summary

In previous lessons, you estimated probabilities by collecting data and found theoretical probabilities by creating a model. In this lesson you used simulation to estimate probabilities in real problems and in situations for which empirical or theoretical procedures are not easily calculated.
Simulation is a method that uses an artificial process (like tossing a coin or rolling a number cube) to represent the outcomes of a real process that provides information about the probability of events. In several cases, simulations are needed to both understand the process as well as provide estimated probabilities.

Lesson 10 Classwork

In previous lessons, you estimated probabilities of events by collecting data empirically or by establishing a theoretical probability model. There are real problems for which those methods may be difficult or not practical to use. Simulation is a procedure that will allow you to answer questions about real problems by running experiments that closely resemble the real situation.
It is often important to know the probabilities of real-life events that may not have known theoretical probabilities. Scientists, engineers, and mathematicians design simulations to answer questions that involve topics such as diseases, water flow, climate changes, or functions of an engine. Results from the simulations are used to estimate probabilities that help researchers understand problems and provide possible solutions to these problems.

Example 1: Families
How likely is it that a family with three children has all boys or all girls?
Let’s assume that a child is equally likely to be a boy or a girl. Instead of observing the result of actual births, a toss of a fair coin could be used to simulate a birth. If the toss results in heads (H), then we could say a boy was born; if the toss results in tails (T), then we could say a girl was born. If the coin is fair (i.e., heads and tails are equally likely), then getting a boy or a girl is equally likely.

Exercises 1–2
Suppose that a family has three children. To simulate the genders of the three children, the coin or number cube or a card would need to be used three times, once for each child. For example, three tosses of the coin resulted in HHT, representing a family with two boys and one girl. Note that HTH and THH also represent two boys and one girl.
1. Suppose a prime number (P) result of a rolled number cube simulates a boy birth, and a non-prime (N) simulates a girl birth. Using such a number cube, list the outcomes that would simulate a boy birth, and those that simulate a girl birth. Are the boy and girl birth outcomes equally likely?
The outcomes are for a boy birth and for a girl birth. The boy and girl births are thereby equally likely. 2. Suppose that one card is drawn from a regular deck of cards, a red card (R) simulates a boy birth and a black card (B) simulates a girl birth. Describe how a family of three children could be simulated.

Example 2
Simulation provides an estimate for the probability that a family of three children would have three boys or three girls by performing three tosses of a fair coin many times. Each sequence of three tosses is called a trial. If a trial results in either HHH or TTT, then the trial represents all boys or all girls, which is the event that we are interested in. These trials would be called a “success.” If a trial results in any other order of H’s and T’s, then it is called a “failure.” The estimate for the probability that a family has either three boys or three girls based on the simulation is the number of successes divided by the number of trials. Suppose trials are performed, and that in those trials, resulted in either HHH or TTT. Then the estimated probability that a family of three children has either three boys or three girls would be 28/100 = 0.28.

Exercises 3–5
3. Find an estimate of the probability that a family with three children will have exactly one girl using the following outcomes of 50 trials of tossing a fair coin three times per trial. Use H to represent a boy birth, and T to represent a girl birth.

4. Perform a simulation of 50 trials by rolling a fair number cube in order to find an estimate of the probability that a family with three children will have exactly one girl.
a. Specify what outcomes of one roll of a fair number cube will represent a boy and what outcomes will represent a girl.
b. Simulate 50 trials, keeping in mind that one trial requires three rolls of the number cube. List the results of your 50 trials.
c. Calculate the estimated probability.

5. Calculate the theoretical probability that a family with three children will have exactly one girl.
a. List the possible outcomes for a family with three children. For example, one possible outcome is BBB (all three children are boys).
b. Assume that having a boy and having a girl are equally likely. Calculate the theoretical probability that a family with three children will have exactly one girl.
c. Compare it to the estimated probabilities found in parts (a) and (b) above.

Suppose that, on average, a basketball player makes about three out of every four foul shots. In other words, she has a 75% chance of making each foul shot she takes. Since a coin toss produces equally likely outcomes, it could not be used in a simulation for this problem.
Instead, a number cube could be used by specifying that the numbers 1, 2, or 3 represent a hit, the number 4 represents a miss, and the numbers 5 and 6 would be ignored. Based on the following 50 trials of rolling a fair number cube, find an estimate of the probability that she makes five or six of the six foul shots she takes.

Rotate to landscape screen format on a mobile phone or small tablet to use the Mathway widget, a free math problem solver that answers your questions with step-by-step explanations.

You can use the free Mathway calculator and problem solver below to practice Algebra or other math topics. Try the given examples, or type in your own problem and check your answer with the step-by-step explanations. 