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Lesson 3: Random Variables

TIME FRAME: 1 hour session

OVERVIEW OF LESSON

In this lesson, the concept of a random variable will be discussed. The notion of a statistical

experiment will be defined. Then, random variables that relate to experiments. Finally, two types

of random variables, discrete and continuous, will be described.

LEARNING OUTCOME(S): At the end of the lesson, the learner should be able to:

distinguish between discrete and continuous random variables

find the possible values of a random variable.

variables), Probability

LESSON OUTLINE:

1. Introduction/Motivation: The coin toss and breath holding activity.

2. Introduce the concepts of a statistical experiment and a random variable

3. Distinguish between discrete and continuous random variables

4. Give examples of random variables

KEY CONCEPTS: Statistical Experiment, Outcomes, Random Variables, Discrete Random

Variables, Continuous Random Variables

MATERIALS NEEDED:

one 1 peso coin per student, one stop timer per group.

DEVELOPMENT OF THE LESSON

(A) Motivation The coin toss and breath holding

Look at the current 1- peso coin in circulation. It has Jose Rizal on one side, which we will

call Head (H), and the other side Tail (T). Ask students to toss a 1-peso coin three times and

record in their Activity Sheet the results of the three tosses (Use H for heads, and T for tails.

If needed, define first which is the heads side of the coin and the tails side of the coin). For

example, a student tosses heads, tails, heads, then the student should write HTH on his/her

notebook. Ask them to count the number of heads that appeared and write it also in their

Activity Sheets.

Next, have each student hold their breath and record the time. This is best done if the students

time it as accurately as possible (if possible, use a cell phone timer and record up to the

nearest hundredth of a second). If there is limited number of timers, do it one at a time with

one student holding the timer, as the other one is holding his/her breath. Ask students to

record the time in their Activity Sheets.

Then, record all the possible answers on the board for both activities. For the first activity

write all eight possible outcomes, and then list down which one had 0, 1, 2, or 3 heads. If you

have time, tally the results. You can do this systematically so that you do not get confused

later on. Start with the outcomes with 0 heads, then progress from there.

TTT

TTH

THT

HTT

THH

HTH

HHT

HHH

The second activity is a little bit more challenging. Expect to have a lot of possible values.

Just write about 10, then just tell the students if they have different values, they can just raise

their hand. Notice that the first one had only four possible values to take, while the second

one is almost unique for each individual. What could help might be getting the lowest value

and the highest value recorded by students.

Emphasize the difference in the number of possible values in these two activities as this is

important in the discussion.

Begin the discussion with the definition of a Statistical Experiment: an activity that will

produce outcomes, or a process that will generate data. The outcomes have a corresponding

chance of occurrence. Examples of which are (a) tossing three coins and counting the number

of heads, (b) recording the time a person can hold his/her breath, (c) counting the number of

students in the classroom who are present today, (d) obtaining the height of a student, etc.

Say that the two activities are examples of statistical experiments. You can come up with

several examples, such as recording the results of an examination, asking the weekly baon

(or allowance) of students, identifying the waist line of students.

Emphasize that Statistical Experiments can have a few or a lot of possible outcomes. In the

coin toss example, there are eight possible outcomes. In the breath example, there can be a

lot of possible outcomes. However, we can indicate that the possible values are in the range

of 10 seconds to 60 seconds (you can ask the shortest and the longest times in class and use

that as the limits for this example).

Suppose you will give a student candy based on the number of heads that appear in the coin

toss experiment (actually giving a candy is optional). List down all the possible number of

candies that can be given. Notice that it should only be 0, 1, 2, or 3. Then, you can list down

all the outcomes of the experiment under each value:

0 TTT

1 TTH, THT, HTT

2 THH, HTH, HHT

3 HHH

number. It is typically denoted by a capital letter, usually X.

X: outcome number

It is actually neither random nor a variable in the traditional sense defined in an algebra class

(where we solve for the value of a variable). It is technically a function from the space of all

possible events to the set of real numbers.

Tell students that a random variable must take exactly one value for each random outcome.

As with functions generally, a number of possible outcomes may have the same value of the

random variable, and in practice this occurs frequently. For instance, three outcomes above

for tossing a coin thrice would have 1 candy, and three outcomes would have 2 candies.

Students need to understand that random variables are conceptually different from the

mathematical variables that they have met before in math classes. A random variable is

linked to observations in the real world, where uncertainty is involved.

Students should be told that random variables are central to the use of probability in practice.

They help model random phenomena, that is, random variables are relevant to a wide range

of human activity, and disciplines, including agriculture, biology, ecology, economics,

medicine, meteorology, physics, psychology, computer science, engineering and others. They

are used to model outcomes of random processes that cannot be predicted deterministically in

advance (but the range of numerical outcomes may however be viewed).

In the coin example, we can define the random variable X to be the number of heads that

appears from tossing a coin three times. While we do not know what will be the specific

outcome resulting, but we know the possible values of X in this case are 0, 1, 2, or 3. You can

also define another random variable Y to be the time a person can hold his/her breath. The

possible values for this variable can be one of so many possible values.

In the second example, the possible values range between the lowest and the highest value

recorded by students. Notice that it is really difficult to list down all the possible values. That

is why in this example, it is better to state the possible values as an interval, such as

10 Y 60 , if the lowest and highest values are 10 and 60 respectively.

Then distinguish the two types of random variables, viz., discrete and continuous.

(a) Discrete Random Variables are random variables that can take on a finite (or countably

infinite) number of distinct values. Examples are number of heads obtained when tossing a

coin thrice, the number of siblings a person has, the number of students present in a

classroom at a given time, the number of crushes a person has at a particular time, etc.

Categorical variables can be considered discrete variables, Example: whether a person has

normal BMI or not, you can assign 1 as the value for normal BMI and 0 for not normal BMI.

You can also put numbers to represent certain categorical variables with more than two

categories. You can also use ordinal variables, like how much they like adobo on a scale of 1

to 10 (where 1 means favorable, and 10 unfavorable).

Continuous Random Variables, on the other hand, are random variables that take an

infinitely uncountable number of possible values, typically measurable quantities. Examples

are the time a person can hold his/her breath, the height or weight or BMI of a person (if

measured very accurately), the time a person takes for a person to bathe. The values that a

continuous random variable can take on lie on a continuum, such as intervals.

Extra Notes:

You can modify the experiment to just tossing a coin twice instead of thrice to

make things simpler. Here, the outcomes will be only four: HH, HT, TH, TT. and

the possible values of X are 0, 1, and 2.

You may use other examples of continuous variables such as height, weight,

lengths, age)

Feel free to add more examples, or get examples from the seatwork that is in the

next section.

Group students into threes. Given the following experiments and random variables, ask the

groups to identify what are the possible values of the random variable? Also, for each random

variable, identify whether the variable is discrete or continuous. (Answers in bold are

Discrete, while answers in italics are Continuous)

1. Experiment: Roll a pair of dice

Random Variable: Sum of numbers that appears in the pair of dice

2. Experiment: Ask a friend about preparing for a quiz in statistics

Random Variable: How much time (in hours) he/she spends studying for this quiz

3. Experiment: Record the sex of family members in a family with four children

Random Variable: The number of girls among the children

4. Experiment: Buy an egg from the grocery

Random Variable: The weight of the egg in grams

5. Experiment: Record the number of hours watching tv from 7pm to 11pm for the past

five nights.

Random Variable: The number of hours watching tv from 7 pm to 11 pm

(D) Enrichment

In tossing a coin four times, how many outcomes correspond to each value of the random

variable?

What if coin would be tossed five times? six times? seven times? eight times?

For tossing the coin four times, there will be five possible values,

0, 1, 2, 3, 4, with

1, 4, 6, 4, 1 outcomes, respectively.

0, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, with

1, 5, 10, 10, 5, 1 outcomes, respectively.

possible value, then there are

n!

nCx = (nk )= k ! ( nk )!

Next, possibly read on probability distributions, which will be covered in the next lesson.

KEY POINTS

numbers.

There are two types of random variables:

o Discrete: takes on a finite (or countably infinite) number of values

o Continuous: takes an infinitely uncountable number of possible values, typically

measurable quantities

REFERENCES

De Veau, R. D., Velleman, P. F., and Bock, D. E. (2006). Intro Stats. Pearson Ed. Inc.

Workbooks in Statistics 1: 11th Edition, Institute of Statistics, UP Los Banos, College Laguna

4031

https://www.khanacademy.org/math/probability/random-variables-

topic/random_variables_prob_dist/v/random-variables

ACTIVITY SHEET 02-02

1. Toss a coin three times and record results of the three tosses below

(Use H for heads, and T for tails. .

Outcome

First Toss

Second Toss

Third Toss

3. Write all possible outcomes for tossing a coin three times, and then list count the number of

heads for each outcome.

4. Hold your breath and accurately record the time you held your breath. (If possible, use a cell

phone timer and record up to the nearest hundredth of a second). Record the time below:

________ seconds

ASSESSMENT

1. Identify a possible random variable (or if possible two random variables) given the following

statistical experiments. If possible, identify whether the variable is Discrete or Continuous:

a. Take a quiz (score of students, whether a student passed or failed the quiz, how

long it took a student to answer the quiz)

b. Ask the class about their breakfast (whether students had breakfast or not, how

long students ate breakfast, the time students had breakfast, how many calories they

consumed)

c. Ask a neighbor about television shows (how many shows he/she watches every

night, what tv channel he/she prefers the most, how long does he/she watch TV per

week)

d. Ask a friend about Facebook (whether he/she has a Facebook account or not ,

number of Facebook friends he/she has, the amount of time he/she spends per week

on Facebook)

e. Run 100m on the track (whether students were able to complete it in under 15s or

not, time to finish running 100m)

f. Ask a classmate about musical instruments (whether he/she plays an instrument or

not , how many instruments he/she can play, length of time he/she plays the

instrument per week)

g. Visit the nearest market and look for poultry, such as chickens (how many stalls sell

chickens, whether the first stall sells chickens or not, total weight of chickens sold

in a certain day)

h. Ask your mother about the EDSA revolution (whether your mother was alive the

time of the EDSA revolution or not, whether she was there or not, what her age

was during the EDSA revolution)

2. During a game of Tetris, we observe a sequence of three consecutive pieces. Each Tetris

piece has seven possible shapes labeled here by the letters , , , , , and . So in this

random procedure, we can observe a sequence such as STT, JJ , SOL, JJJ and so on. Define:

can take the value 0, 1, 2 or 3.

Y to be the number of different shapes in a sequence of three pieces. Then Y can

take the value 1, 2 or 3.

T to be the time it takes a randomly selected Tetris gamer to end a game

Explanatory Notes:

Teachers have the option to just ask this assessment orally to the entire class, or to

group students and ask them to identify answers, or to give this as homework, or to use

some questions for a chapter examination.

The answers here are some of the possible answers and are not limited to these only.

Should the students think of other examples, that would be better.

Answers in bold are Discrete, while answers in italics are Continuous

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