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What is Probability?

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Probability is a term we are relatively familiar with. However, when you look up the definition of probability, you'll find a variety of similar definitions. Probability is all around us. Probability refers to the likelihood or relative frequency for something to happen. The continuum of probability falls anywhere from impossible to certain and anywhere in between. When we speak of chance or the odds; the chances or odds of winning the lottery, we're also referring to probability. The chances or odds or probability of winning the lottery is something like 18 million to 1. In other words, the probability of winning the lottery is highly unlikely. Weather forecasters use probability to inform us of the likelihood (probability) of storms, sun, precipitation, temperature and along with all weather patterns and trends. You'll hear that there's a 10% chance of rain. To make this prediction, a lot of data is taken into account and then analyzed. The medical field informs us of the likelihood of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, the odds of beating cancer etc.

Probability has become a topic in math that has grown out of societal needs. The language of probability starts as early as kindergarten and remains a topic through highschool and beyond. The collection and analysis of data has become extremely prevalent throughout the math curriculum. Students typically do experiments to analyze possible outcomes and to calculate frequencies and relative frequencies.
Why? Because making predictions is extremely important and useful. It's what drives our researchers and statiticians who will make predictions about disease, the enviroment, cures, optimal health, highway safety, and air safety to name a few. We fly because we are told that there is only a 1 in 10 million chance of dying in an airplane crash. It takes the analysis of a great deal of data to determine the probability/chances of events and to do so as accurately as possible.

In school, students will make predictions based on simple experiments. For instance, they roll dice to determine how often they'll roll a 4. (1 in 6) But they will also soon discover that it is very difficult to predict with any kind of accuracy or certainty what t.he outcome of any given roll will be. They will also discover that the results will be better as the number of trials grows. The results for a low number of trials is not as good as the results are for a large number of trials.

With probability being the likelihood of an outcome or event, we can say that the theoretical probability of an event is the number of outcomes of the event divided by the number of possible outcomes. Hence the dice, 1 out of 6. Typically, the math curriculum will require students to conduct experiments, determine fairness, collect the data using various methods,interpret and analyze the data, display the data and state the rule for the probability of the outcome.

In summary, probability deals with patterns and trends that occur in random events. Probability helps us to determine what the likelihood of something happening will be. Statistics and simulations help us to determine probability with greater accuracy. Simply put, one could say probability is the study of chance. It affects so many aspects in life, everything from earthquakes occurring to sharing a birthday. If you're interested in probability, the field in math you'll want to pursue will be data management and statistics.

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