Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Football Fever

Every year, I run a football pool with my students. I have since 2004 for classes ranging from Grade 4 up to Grade 8. The simple breakdown is as follows.

  • Each Thursday, for the 17 weeks of the NFL regular season, students look at the current standings, ESPN charts and their own data to predict the winner of each game taking place that weekend. When ready, they circle their prediction for the winners of each game on a sheet.
  • Picture used with permission
    Each Tuesday, the results are checked, tallied and charted (Example). Initially, this is done as a class; the responsibility is eventually released to small groups of students. By the end of the year, each student should have had at least two opportunities to deal with the data.
  • Other statistical data, including mean, median and mode are determined through a variety of methods - See below.
  • A small prize is awarded to the weekly winner (raffle ticket, pencil, small candy, Edmodo Badge).
  • The final leader (leading after 17 weeks) wins a small pizza party (including friends) and his or her name is engraved onto a trophy that can be taken home until the end of the school year in June. 

Raised Eyebrows of Concern

I’ll admit this approach to the curriculum sometimes raises eyebrows from administrators, parents and even students. Here are my answers to the most Frequently Asked Questions.

Do the kids have to watch football?  In class?
No and No, except for the Turkey Bowl (Thursday afternoon of the American Thanksgiving - when we watch briefly - for fun.) We look at the standings and predictions on Thursdays (as a class and in small groups to create a genuine mathematical conversation) and we look at results on Tuesday (reflecting on our predictions and informing our future choices).

Are you teaching gambling?  
No. There is no money involved and I provide all the prizes (including the pizza party). Later in the year, we have a discussion about gambling. We talk about a friendly pool (where all the participants play at a low cost and divide the money entirely at the end) compared with a profit-based pool (which offers high payouts for the few, most successful participants and skims a portion from each week’s collection). To emphasize my point, I offer $20 to any student who can achieve a perfect week of picks. In over a decade - hundreds of students times hundreds of weeks of football - I have never had to pay that money out. We discuss the statistical reasons why this is a safe bet for me (or a profit-based organization) to make.

You’re Canadian - Why NFL Football...not hockey or the CFL?
There is great practicality to the NFL schedule. It is predictable. It starts the first week of school and ends near the winter break. It follows a regular schedule that fits perfectly with my week. It lends itself to many conversations that go beyond the field of play. Depending on grade and school community, I have considered many of these topics - Sportsmanship & Fair Play (Deflategate) , Domestic Violence, Football and Concussions, Media & the Superbowl, or even this wonderfully funny (and discussion worthy) comparison of baseball and football by the late, George Carlin.

Do the Curriculum Connections justify this use of class time?
In a recent post, I weighed the Pros and Cons of a teacher bringing his or her interests  or “passions” into the classroom. I have put my use of the Football Pool to the test and, each year, I am convinced of its utility. There are benefits that extend beyond the basic math expectations that are covered (Data Management, Probability, Number Sense). I address them below.

Other features

  • Staff Involvement: Students also keep the statistics for a separate pool involving staff members (we play for bragging rights and occasional side bets for beverages after school on Fridays). Students take great delight when they are more successful in a week than a teacher or - better still - are leading a teacher in the pool. Staff often tell me about lengthy conversations with eager students during recess. Good-natured “trash talk” can often lead to a sincere discussion about the veracity of their pool choices in a statistically close game. 
  • Second Chances: Midway through the season, students who are eliminated (statistically) can vie for the "Toilet Bowl" by picking the losing teams. The Toilet Bowl leaders and winners receive similar prizes (sans trophy). Every year, an important (and ultimately humorous) math discussion is created with the guiding question “Is it easier to pick the losing teams?” We also begin a Survivor Pool to stoke interest from those unfortunate participants who are stuck in the middle of the pack.    
  • New Canadians: Each year, I welcome new Canadians into my classroom. The world of professional sports (warts and all) is an important part of embracing a new culture. If I moved to India or Japan I would relish the opportunity to learn more about their sports (cricket or sumo wrestling). 
  • The Mapping Activity: During the first week, we learn to use the index at the back of an atlas to locate each team’s stadium. They are then plotted using Google Maps and some obvious patterns appear. This leads to a discussion of the United States and sets me up nicely for numerous Social Studies topics or Mystery Skype involving Canada’s neighbour and key trading partner.
  • Median Line: One of my student’s favourite activities is the Median line. Once weekly results have been tallied and checked we head outside to form a line. Students are arranged sequentially from those with the lowest correct picks to those with the highest. We then eliminate students from both ends until the median is found. The result is also used for any student who missed picking (so that they do not receive a zero result). This kinesthetic-learning activity resonates with all students and an immediate improvement in their understanding of measurements of central tendency is seen.
  • Logos Scavenger hunt: Prior to the first set of picks, I conduct a logo scavenger hunt (Editable Doc Here) (NFL Logo Helmets Here). This leads into a discussion about the names of teams - including the Washington Redskins' name and logo controversy. I have, on occasion, created a writing assignment that provides choice, such as research the name of any team or write a creative story about how a team got its name. These are then presented in the classroom.

This year I am excited to involve my teaching partner’s class. This will expand our data and stimulate friendly competition and fun.

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