How To Use Sports To Teach Math
If your child’s fifth grade math homework has you feeling frustrated, you are not alone.
I’m a professional sports journalist. Words are my area of expertise. My husband is an accountant. I haven’t thought about numbers since I balanced my checkbook the day before our wedding 15 years ago. Since then all things mathematical have been on my husband’s side of our family’s “division of labor” … until my kids hit elementary school.
Faced with the daily torture task of helping with homework I started thinking about different ways to reach my sports-loving kids not only to help them understand the concepts they are being taught but to appreciate the daily application.
Here are three ways I have used sports to explain math this year to my 2nd and 5th grade sons.
Fractions: Which number is larger? My son’s teacher said that a number of the students were having trouble understanding the 8/10 is a larger number than 8/100. “They see the ‘100’ and they just think that HAS to be bigger,” she lamented. But take any sport-loving kid and ask them to put it in terms of a football pass completion percentage. “Which quarterback would you want throwing to you?” I asked my son, “The one who completes 8 of 10 passes or 8 out of 100 passes?” Suddenly the answer became clear.
Converting percentage to decimals: So now your child can recognize 8/10 is a greater number than 8/100 but decimals are a whole different deal. Or is it? Same math – maybe just drop pass completion and start talking batting average. Here is the formula: Hits/At Bats= Batting Average … use the same numbers as we did with fractions but point out that if a baseball player hits 8 out of every 10 balls pitched that would be a batting average of .800 (and oh by the way as of this writing Miquel Cabrera leads MLB with a batting average of .338 so .800 would make your kid the greatest hitter ever and playing in the major leagues at 10 years old! Nevermind …. ) But take our other number/example: 8 hits/100 at bats = .080 and you are probably going to be put in charge of hydration (as in “can you grab the water bottles please?”) Believe me, if you have a stick-and-ball loving kid they will get ahold of this concept quickly!
Recognizing efficiency: In my work as a play by play announcer for television, I call nearly 50 men’s, women’s and beach volleyball matches a year. The most commonly-quoted stat is hitting percentage which is really all about efficiency. It teaches the kids to look beyond the initially obvious. I posed this question:
Elyse has 22 kills
Krista has 16 kills
Which one is the more successful hitter? Most children will select Elyse automatically but we are talking about EFFICIENCY. Two important pieces of information are needed in addition to the number of kills: errors and total attempts. With a new look at the expanded stat line and some applied math the answer becomes more clear. Here is the expanded stat line:
Elyse 22 kills – 7 errors – 42 attempts
Krista 16 kills – 1 error – 24 attempts
The equation for efficiently in this case is kills minus errors/attempts:
Elyse 22-7/42= .357
Krista 16-1/24= .625
Krista is the more EFFICENT hitter. I would also suspect that with numbers like that the coach is going to try to get her the ball more often!
Once they start to get the concept look for opportunities to recognize math in their daily lives including in the games they watch and play. The easiest way to teach fractions in my house still is the using an actual pie rather than a pie chart. Children as young as three years old know they want an equal piece!
Anne Marie Anderson is one of the most experienced female play by play announcers in the country. You can hear her calling volleyball, softball and basketball on ESPN, Fox, CBS, and the Pac 12 Network. She is the mother of two boys and a girl. Follow her on Twitter or on her website annemarieanderson.com