Students learn math, and life, lessons through gambling

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After spending last Thursday morning gambling with fake money in a mock casino in North Hills Middle School’s all-purpose room, 13-year-old Lexi Mandell of Ross concluded, “Gambling’s not for me. I never win.”

That was just the lesson North Hills math teacher Jennifer Staudt hoped her students would learn.

“We’re teaching these kids that when it comes to gambling, you’ll always lose more than you win,” she said.

The casino was part of The Allegheny Math Partnership's Middle School Probability/Computer Exploration Fair, which is held every other year for middle school students. Approximately 90 students from North Hills, Avonworth and Riverside played a variety of games intended to teach them a lesson about gambling that they won’t ever forget.

The Partnership consists of math teachers from Avonworth, North Hills, Mars Area, Meadville, Riverside, Hampton, North Allegheny and Allegheny Valley who exchange ideas and discuss topics such as assessments and curriculum regarding high school and junior high math. On alternative years, the group holds a senior math tournament in North Park.

The variety of skill and luck-based games at the fair were designed and run by former and current North Hills and Avonworth advanced placement statistics students. The students also utilized software to develop animated computer projects.

“It’s nice that we’re actually using a project that ties into the AP statistics curriculum,” said Avonworth High School math teacher Derek Johncour. “It’s as informational as it is fun.”

Avonworth seventh-graders Tess Theobald and Michael Donovan said they were impressed that learning could be so enjoyable and so addictive.

“I’ve been playing basketball and making bets, which is way more fun than going to school,” Michael said.

Tess said she had an even greater appreciation that she was learning so much and having fun at the same time. “These games all relate to what we’re learning about,” she said. "This is the kind of experience I will always remember.”

This was the second time at the probability fair for North Hills senior Shane Pentland, 17.

“I remember it well,” said Shane, who participated as an eighth-grader and is now considering a college major that includes math. “Statistics class shows me one side of math, but this shows me another side, and it adds a lot of depth to the subject.”

Senior Mackenzie Mayernik, 17, of Ross plans to study finance at the University of Cincinnati.

“Doing this makes me think about how business is everywhere and math relates to just about everything,” she said, noting that she also enjoyed her role as a mentor to the younger kids. “They all have an interest in probability now; they understand how it can affect you.”

At the end of the fair, the youngsters counted how much money they had left.

“Some of the games were designed to be in the player’s favor, while others were rigged against the player,” said Ms. Staudt, noting that those who have the most money at the end usually say that they didn’t play very much. “Our message is that gambling is very much not in your favor. It can even be addictive.”

Riverside eighth-grader Preston Sheridan, 15, of New Brighton also enjoyed himself.

“I thought we were just going to play games, but this turned out to be a life lesson,” he said. Nevertheless, he said it probably won’t stop him from checking out a casino some day.

“Now I realize that the games are much harder than they look, and there’s a greater probability of losing, which can be dangerous," Preston said. "I will try to limit myself at the casino.”

Jill Cueni-Cohen, freelance writer:

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