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Apple’s iTunes software has a “shuffle” feature that lets you listen to your songs in random order, but that hasn’t stopped the Internet from buzzing with complaints that iTunes is anything but random — certain artists or genres tend to get grouped together, some songs never seem to get played, etc. But what, exactly, would a random playlist look like?

In this lesson, students use probability to explore the idea of randomness, as well as the patterns that can emerge from random processes like shuffles. In other words, do random things actually feel random? And is true randomness a desirable characteristic in a playlist?

Students will

  • Calculate the total number of song permutations in a playlist using the Fundamental Counting Principle

Before you begin

Students should be familiar with the basics of probability, including compound events. They should also be able to count outcomes using combinations, permutations and the Fundamental Counting Principle.

Common Core Standards

Content Standards
Mathematical Practices

Additional Materials

  • Random number generator