Thursday, May 22, 2014

Teaching Math Through Sports


As an educator, I see how important numbers and mathematical concepts are for our students. I also see many students struggling daily to understand all of the processes. So, naturally, when my son David was getting ready for preschool, I tried to encourage the study of numbers. 
Easier said than done…For about 6 months, his counting sounded like this, “ 10, 11, 12, 14..” He could never remember 13, regardless of how many times we reminded him, and he could not count past 20. Instead of becoming frustrated and pushing him harder, I chose to step back. I told myself I would work with him more this summer before he went to kindergarten.
             And, just like that… the saying, “It will happen when you least expect it”, became my reality:
As we all prepared to jump on the March Madness Bracket Challenge bandwagon, I saw a new-found excitement in my 5-year-old’s eyes. He took his bracket to heart, started asking countless questions about the teams and players, and glued himself to every game he could. He even asked Siri scores of games as soon as he woke up.
To be honest, I was a little worried about him becoming obsessed with sports.  But, little did I know, he was starting to develop a skill that still continues to amaze me. As he listened to the announcers, watched the scoreboard change at the bottom of the tv, asked us questions about the scores, and continued to quiz Siri about other games, he was really developing a sense of numbers I never thought possible for a young mind.
By mid-April, he could recognize three digit-numbers, counted to 100 with ease, and could complete story problems (as long as they dealt with basketball and were in increments of 1, 2, and 3 pointers!). And in that month, not once did we “work on learning numbers”.
Now that baseball has started, he has carried on this love for “figuring out the score and determining how many points the other team needs”. Between basketball play-offs and baseball games, we never go a night without some sort of “number” discussion.  We scrimmage each other with a Nerf behind-the-door hoop and he counts by two’s and three’s with ease.
Sometimes I think sports get a bad reputation. I have been guilty of criticism when it comes their paycheck. But, I too, have a new-found respect for some of these players and the positive impact this genre can have on the people in the world. My son has especially developed respect for Peyton Manning, Kevin Durant, Andre Drummand, and Max Scherzer, to name a few. Not only does he respect them for what they do on the court/field, but he also investigates how they got where they are today. He can name the colleges that over 20 of these athletes attended. Besides having these new positive role models, I have seen his memory and recall skills improve, he has developed a new level of curiosity and investigation, and continues to blow us away with the problems he creates and solves in his head involving numbers.
I will be the first to admit that I was skeptical of allowing my son to watch so many games on television. However, little did I know, sports would become the best resource I could use to teach my son basic skills he will use for the rest of his life. Children are much smarter than we sometimes give them credit. If we would only allow their minds to work at their own pace and allow them to concentrate on the things they find interesting, we would find that they have a way of learning the things they need to know. Sometimes we need to let them be kids and let their curiosity and imaginations drive their own learning.  Our support comes when we do things as a family, create situations that will allow their creativity to shine, and simply put, let them be a kid, and share that excitement with them. Before they attend school and feel the pressure to learn so many things each day, step back and let them amaze you. You just never know when something as simple as a sports competition can become the building blocks for your child’s education.