Derren Brown, NRich and Probability

My Year 8 set 2 of 3 class have been learning about probability and I wanted to spend a lesson looking at some Rich Tasks where they could apply (and extend) their learning.  I was really pleased with how it all came together so thought I’d blog  about it.

My starting point as always was the excellent NRich website.  I found two tasks which I though would be both enjoyable and accessible.  As a starter I used the Last One Standing problem, taking the “answer in an envelope” route descibed in the Teacher Notes and we discussed as a class how I could possibly have known the correct answer: I was impressed with how well pupils managed to explain their reasoning using their prior learning.

I vaguely remembered a Derren Brown “trick” where he flipped a fair coin and got ten heads in a row.  After much searching around I located this on the 4OD website.  The programme is called The System.  I played pupils a clip between 09:40 and 11:35 which shows Derren flipping the coin.  We then had a discussion about how he did it and whether it was possible.  Using a listing outcomes method pupils worked out the probability of getting all heads from two flips, three flips etc… I wasn’t expecting to link this to the “and rule” and actual probability calculations using fractions when I went into the lesson but it naturally progressed to that.  Pupils then calculated the probability that Derren would flip ten heads in a row.  I then did the big reveal and showed a clip of Derren explaining how he managed his feat (30:55 to 32:15).

Next we looked at the Mathsland National Lottery problem and pupils applied the “and rule” to calculate the probability of winning for different permuatations of avavilable numbers and numbers chosen.  As a plenary I asked pupils to calculate the probability of winning the actually UK National Lottery.  The pupils all managed to do this successfully and were amazed that they managed to calculate something so big and unlikely.

NB: The 4OD website requires registration before you can play clips.  There is three unskippable adverts at the start of the programme that you must watch



  1. · October 6, 2012

    This probability lesson is great – interesting problems which connect to one another. I went onto the 4OD website and couldn’t find Derren Brown’s show. For anyone who had a similar problem – you can find it on youtube.

    Anyway, I’ll definately be using this clip at some point – nice post!

  2. Daniel Downes · March 7, 2013

    ‘The System’ doesnt seem to be listed on 4od anymore, do you have any idea where I might be able to get it now? I would really appreciate it as I am planning a 6 lesson probability project analysing magic with my KS4 classes.

    • ideasfortheclassroom · March 7, 2013

      I’ve just searched and its still there. May be a broken link? Search for “Derren Brown: The Specials”.

  3. Pingback: My Favourite Resources: Probability | ideasfortheclassroom

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