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July 16, 2012 / Jeff d.

Random Problem Idea: Butt Dialing 9-1-1

Okay, so not much thought went into this one, but it might work well as a starter to a unit on probability (it has zero engagement value if the students already know how to “calculate” it).

A co-worker told a story yesterday about how the cops showed up at his house because his young son had been playing with the phone and accidentally called 911.

The phone in my hotel room right now.

So what are the odds of dialing 911, in that sequence, on accident?  It could be very simple (don’t forget to include the * and # keys), or there could be more to it: wouldn’t you think the odds of accidentally hitting the same number twice in a row would be a little higher (an argument espoused by EmergentMath last night)?  And what if there are more buttons, like my hotel phone?



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  1. Jeff Brenneman / Aug 11 2012 4:17 pm
    • Jeff d. / Aug 14 2012 7:47 pm

      Awesome…I’m going to use that article as the entry doc. Thanks!

  2. Stephanie / Feb 27 2013 10:15 pm

    Hi, Jeff,

    This made me chuckle (I’m a probability and statistics instructor). Thanks for posting this thought. You could also extend it to the probability of butt dialing a particular friend on a contact list. For some reason, I always butt dial the person I least want to butt dial!

    I came across your blog via David Wees, and as a fellow mathematics educator I thought you might be able to help in spreading the word about an educational TV show for preteens about math that we’re putting together. “The Number Hunter” is a cross between Bill Nye The Science Guy and The Crocodile Hunter — bringing math to children in an innovative, adventurous way. I’d really appreciate your help in getting the word out about the project.

    I studied math education at Jacksonville University and the University of Florida. It became clear to me during my studies why we’re failing at teaching kids math. We’re teaching it all wrong! Bill Nye taught kids that science is FUN. He showed them the EXPLOSIONS first and then the kids went to school to learn WHY things exploded. Kids learn about dinosaurs and amoeba and weird ocean life to make them go “wow”. But what about math? You probably remember the dreaded worksheets. Ugh.

    I’m sure you know math is much more exciting than people think. Fractal Geometry was used to create “Star Wars” backdrops, binary code was invented in Africa, The Great Pyramids and The Mona Lisa, wouldn’t exist without geometry.
    Our concept is to create an exciting, web-based TV show that’s both fun and educational.

    If you could consider posting about the project on your blog, I’d very much appreciate it. Also, if you’d be interested in link exchanging (either on The Number Hunter site, which is in development, or on which is a well-established site with 300,000 page views a month) please shoot me an email. We’re also always looking for input and ideas from other math educators!

    Thanks in advance for your help,


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