Research-based guidance and classroom activities for teachers of mathematics

Deborah's Dilemma

This activity is a decision-making scenario programme that is freely available to download from the website. It was designed as a development tool for teachers, but has been shown to be usable with students in prompting discussion about personal values and assessing risk probabilities and impacts.

Deborah has a serious back complaint. She could have an operation that could cure the problem, but it might lead to a number of side-effects, some of which are serious. Data are provided about different doctors’ opinions of the likelihood of success and the various side-effects.

A tool allows users to simulate what might happen if Deborah were to choose to have the operation. Users are able to model the situation based on their assessment of the success rate and the liklihood of the significant side effects. In effect, they can examine many possible futures for Deborah given the model they have built. In comparison, they can also build a model of Deborah’s life should she not have the operation. In this model, users choose activities and their consequence in terms of the pain that Deborah might suffer. It is then possible to consider the effect of pain on her quality of life.

Users are invited to consider how they might respond in Deborah’s situation. Would they have the operation? The critical idea is that likelihoods need somehow to be aligned with impacts, but that such a judgement is personal, involving values that extend into many dimensions of Deborah’s life.

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