The coupon collection problem with kids

Yesterday my younger son was playing a dice game (explained in the first video) that reminded me a bit of the coupon collection problem. I thought it would be fun to try out that problem with the boys this morning. We were a little low energy, but I think it was still a good project. I’ll have to figure out how to revisit it to make sure the points stuck.

Here’s the introduction, including the game my son was playing:

Next we worked through one case of the problem – rolling dice trying to collect 6 “coupons”. My older son thought it would take 15 rolls and my younger son thought it was take 20.

Now I tried to help the kids dive into the math. We ended up going down a path that was much more complicated than I intended. I’m not sure why I made the choice that I did here, but . . . it happens sometimes 🙂

So, at the end of the last video we were caught in a seemingly complicated infinite series. I tried to explain why the expression we had on the board had to be equal to one. Then I tried to explain why the expected number of rolls had to be greater than one. The explanation here is a disaster, though.

Now that things had gone totally off the rails, I tried to pull it back. Luckily things did go better, and it was easier for the boys to see the expected number of rolls when there were fewer open slots.

Finally I wanted to show the kids how the ideas we talked about here would apply to a more difficult problem – say 100 coupons. We got off on the wrong foot here, but we eventually saw how the ideas we’d talked about previously applied.

Despite the low energy and going doing a path that was a bit too complicated, I think this is a fun problem for kids to study. It looks very difficult initially, but through a bit of calculation (and maybe a bit of hand waving) we can break it down into some smaller problems that we are able to solve. Putting the solutions of those smaller problems together, we can show that the solution to the original coupon collection problem isn’t too hard to understand.




One Comment so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. If it’s low stress and low energy then it cultivates the crazy idea that it’s perfectly fine and normal to mess around with ideas non productively sometimes 🙂

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