Finding students a bit sluggish on this, just the third day of school in many Seattle-area districts? Could it be that they were up late, watching the Seahawks season-opener against Green Bay? Football may leave you cold, but consider the volcano of statistics, the numerical slicing and dicing used to predict outcomes. All of it is built on math.
Fantasy football? Even more so.
For the uninitiated, the game works like this: You pick an assortment of real-life players for various positions on your imaginary team — quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, for example — then rack up points based on the players’ actual performance on game day.
Yes, it’s pretend-play for grownups. But teachers find that fantasy football can energize students who are otherwise less-than-motivated by traditional math. Even the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has suggestions for incorporating football into lesson plans (baseball and basketball, too).
Results from a University of Mississippi study of 486 teachers and students, reported on the website Fantasy Sports and Mathematics, suggest that using sports to teach math has powerful appeal:
- 75 percent of teachers agreed that students understood math concepts more when they used fantasy sports
- 51 percent of teachers agreed that students’ math grades were higher when they used fantasy sports
- 81 percent of teachers agreed that students came to math class with more enthusiasm when they used fantasy sports
The fantasy-sports curriculum was created by former middle school math teacher Dan Flockhart, who says that when students imagine themselves as team owners it creates a powerful sense of agency. For Flockhart, it was also the most successful approach to math instruction he found during an 11-year classroom career:
Students can make trades, draft any players they wish, and decide on their starting lineups each week…. They control their teams, and they enjoy the feeling of power that comes with managing a franchise. This independence helps them to build their decision-making skills, thus contributing to their social and cognitive development.
The New York Times is on board, too, offering ways to use football in the classroom:
Here’s The Times’ suggestion: Have students pair up. Each pair will create one team with three players. Ask students to choose their team rosters by browsing player statistics. Then ask them to name their team, writing down both their “draft” choices and the reasons behind them.
Assign students to create a match-up that considers both the player and his opponent by averaging data from each. For example: if a quarterback throws for an average of 300 yards per game, and the opposing defense allows an average of 220 yards passing per game, then assign a value of (300 + 220) / 2 = 260 yards of passing for that “match-up.” See how it comes out in real life. Then encourage students to propose, create and experiment with their own metrics.
Now at least you’ll have an answer to the question: “How does algebra matter to the rest of my life?”