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Chapter 2:

Random Variables and Probability Distributions

Lesson 3: Random Variables
TIME FRAME: 1 hour session
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:

illustrate/provide examples of random variables

distinguish between discrete and continuous random variables
find the possible values of a random variable.

PRE-REQUISITE LESSONS: Types of Data (in particular, classifications of numerical

variables), Probability
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
one 1 peso coin per student, one stop timer per group.
(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.


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.

(B) Main Lesson

Experiments and Random Variables

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:

Number of candies Outcomes


Next, define a Random Variable: it is a way to map outcomes determined by chance to a

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.

Types of Random Variables:

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.

(C) Group Discussion

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

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

Try to relate the outcomes to the numbers in Pascals triangle.

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.

For five coins there are six possible values,

0, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, with
1, 5, 10, 10, 5, 1 outcomes, respectively.

In general, for n tosses of a coin, there are n+1 possible values, 0, 1, 2, 3, , n. If k is a

possible value, then there are

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

outcomes associated with x.

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

A Random Variable may be viewed as a way to map outcomes determined by chance to

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
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

1. Toss a coin three times and record results of the three tosses below
(Use H for heads, and T for tails. .

First Toss
Second Toss
Third Toss

2. Count the number of heads that appeared.

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
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
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
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:

X to be the number of occurrences of `J' in a sequence of three pieces. Then X

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

Identify whether X, Y and T are discrete or continuous.

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