This course will examine both the meaning and the mathematics of probabilities, and how they arise in everyday life, in news and current events, in movies, and elsewhere. Specific topics may include: margins of error in polls, the interpretation of medical studies, long run averages in casinos, games involving dice and cards, the nature of coincidences, crime statistics, the use of utility functions to make decisions, the use of probabilities to block spam e-mail messages, the role of randomness in evolution, pseudorandomness, Monte Carlo algorithms, and how mathematics is best taught and best learned.

To succeed in this course, it is necessary to actively participate in class discussions, and enthusiastically consider a variety of logical, mathematical, and societal issues from a variety of perspectives.

Prerequisite: At least one grade 12 mathematics course (or the equivalent from another country).

Time: Wednesdays, 2-4. (First class Sept 9.)

Location (Fall term): Sidney Smith Hall, room 2101.

Location (Winter term): University College, room D301.

Course Web Page:

Textbook: Struck by Lightning: The Curious World of Probabilities, available from the U of T Bookstore or from e.g. (This book will provide a starting point for our discussions, but we will also probe more deeply into some of the topics.)

Instructor: Professor Jeffrey S. Rosenthal, Department of Statistics, University of Toronto. Sidney Smith Hall, room 5016B; phone (416) 978-4594;; 'jeff' at ''



  1. Classes will involve a combination of presentations from the instructor, student cooperative work in small groups, and whole-class discussion.
  2. To obtain class participation points, students are expected to punctually attend class each week, to enthusiastically participate in discussions and activities during class time, and to conscientiously keep up with readings and other (small) weekly assignments. In particular, it is crucial to have excellent attendance, and to speak up often and listen carefully to others during whole-class discussions.
  3. The Minor Paper will be 5-10 pages (typed double spaced), and the Major Paper will be 10-15 pages (typed double spaced). You will have significant flexibility in the choice of topic. Details will be discussed later.
  4. For assistance with writing essays, see the resources on the web page Writing at the University of Toronto (including How Not to Plagiarize), and also ELL and accessibility. See also the U of T Library, including their research help and paper-writing assistance.