It’s first period, Monday morning, and I’ve written a math problem on the board. But in front of me is a room full of blank stares and lowered heads.
I’ve got to get this class motivated, so I look to one of the students in the last row. “Hey Sally,” I ask, “did you watch the Giants game yesterday?”
“No, I’m a Jets fan. They’re way better.”
Another student, Sam, pipes up, “The Patriots are the best. They have Tom Brady.”
A few other kids chime in, throwing out their favorite teams. This goes on for a minute or two. Then I turn back to Sally and ask, “What was the score of the Jets game?”
“27–14. They beat the Dolphins.”
“Was it a close game?”
I get puzzled looks, but at least the whole class is looking at me now.
“No way! They won by 13, it was a blowout,” scoffs Sally.
Another student raises his hand, “Two more touchdowns and the Dolphins would have won. The quarterback threw an interception that should’ve been a touchdown.”
“Well, what did the Dolphins need to do in order to tie the game? A few field goals?”
Heads pop up. Now I’ve got their attention.
I start by writing on the board all the ways to score in football, and how many points a team gets for each: 6 for a touchdown, 3 for a field goal, 2 for a safety, and 1 (extra point kick) or 2 (scoring on a run or pass) for a conversion after a touchdown.
Excited, the students start discussing how the game could have been tied by the Dolphins. After a bit of back and forth, they agree that a touchdown, an extra point and two field goals is the best solution to tie the game. (6 + 1 + 3 + 3 = 13 points.) Though a field goal and five safeties would have been cool to see. (3 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 = 13 points.)
If you have a child who struggles with math, one thing you can do is connect math to his everyday life and interests. That real-world connection can get your child excited and engaged in learning.
Football is one of my favorite ways to motivate kids because there’s literally a new, fun math problem on every play. If you watch a game with your child, you can use this to your advantage.
Ask questions about score changes, yards gained or lost, time remaining, and so on. You’re not solving problems on a worksheet. This is a chance to be the coach or the announcer and analyze the game, all while reinforcing math concepts.
Want to try it out? Here are a few of my favorite conversation starters to get the football math flowing:
Situation #1: The score is Giants 17, Dolphins 21. There’s only enough time for the Giants to run one more play. Should the Giants go for a touchdown or kick a field goal?
Situation #2: So far in the game, the Giants running back has run for 75 yards on 8 carries. How many yards does the running back need to get to 100?
Situation #3: The Dolphins are on their own 35-yard line. How many yards are they from scoring a touchdown?
And my personal favorite—The Giants are on the Dolphins’ 30-yard line and setting up for a field goal. Why is the announcer saying it’s a 48-yard field goal?
Feel free to use your favorite teams with any of these examples.
For more ideas on how to help your child with math, read about afterschool activities that sneak math into your child’s day.
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About the author
Brendan R. Hodnett, MAT is a special education teacher in Middletown, New Jersey, and an adjunct professor at Hunter College.