College professor uses blackjack to teach math

I always hated math class when I was in school. That’s probably because I never had a teacher like Professor Mark Bollman at Albion College. In his class, students at the Michigan school were treated to a unique way of learning math: playing and learning about casino games.

Professor Bollman had his students study the house edge of various games in order to teach statistics. Unlike everything I memorized in the statistics book I had in school, that information is actually useful. Players also played blackjack in the classroom during labs, betting using fake money chips. By learning basic blackjack strategy and the likelihood of a certain card coming up, the students learned applicable statistics.

To apply the knowledge obtained in the classroom, Bollman then took his class to the nearby Soaring Eagle Casino in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. This was done to provide the students with real-word experience relating to the statistics that they learned. He stated that it’s hard to simulate the effect of winning or losing money in the classroom. “When we play in the classroom,” he said, “all the chips come back to me at the end of the hour and there’s no risk.”

Students who went to the casino were not required to gamble any of their money, but all of them chose to. Some students lost as much as $130 and won as much as $400. Of course, they really won much more than that: an appreciation for math.

Just kidding. But I do think people would appreciate math much more if it was taught in a practical way, like Professor Bollman is doing. I have used math a lot more in this job, by doing various statistics and odds, than I ever thought I would. If I knew that would happen, I would have paid more attention in math class. Of course, if I was taught in cool ways like by playing blackjack, maybe no one would have needed to tell me to pay more attention.

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