Basketball Math

It seems appropriate to focus a little bit on basketball since we are in the midst of “March Madness” and the final four looming this Saturday, April 2.  I myself 2016-03-29_14-33-42have a difficult time staying excited when my team, Virginia Tech, was not even in the tournament, though, our arch rival, Virginia, did make it to the Elite Eight. So – home-state pride and all!!  As a math teacher, events like the NCAA Basketball tournament, provide opportunities to connect mathematics to real-world happenings. Students tend to be excited to learn and use the mathematics in context because they are either watching the games or at the very least, aware of them so there is a connection. With these types of current events going on, it provides an opportunity to research and collect relevant data and explore numbers in a variety of ways.

Statistical measures and comparisons are the obvious mathematical focus here, though not the only one.  You could explore some physics, such as what’s the ideal arc and location to make a 3-pointer (or a foul shot), or some geometry, such as what’s the ideal volume of a basketball to create the perfect bounce (if there is such a thing).  Having your students come up with their own questions and then do some research and get their own data would be a fun exercise all by itself. Here are just a few sites with NCAA 2016 statistics you could use to support your students questions:

2016-03-29_15-26-59Obviously, you could use these statistics in several ways, but for me, the easiest, and most efficient way to get students asking questions and then use the data they find to help answer those questions is to a) provide them access to data; 2) provide them with technology tools to explore the data; 3) allow them to explore and make conjectures; 4) have them share out their findings and justify their conclusions.  (Very Common Core!) If you are like me, where access to technology in the classroom consisted of a projector screen and computer, and then calculators, getting the data becomes the biggest hurdle.Printing out data from sites (like those above) is one way around that, though a bit cumbersome and it does not allow for student-driven questions, since the data you print may not be what they are questioning. You could have students in groups, and give each group time to formulate some questions first, and then provide each group some time on the computer to search for data that will help support their questions. Some of you may be lucky enough to have a few tablets or computers in your classroom for students, or allow students to access their smartphones/internet to do searches.  In that case, each group can do their own searches on devices within their group, which will make the search process easier.  No matter how students search for and gather data, having calculators for each student would be important, since they can then enter the data and explore quickly and make conjectures.  Yes, yes, you are right – you could just have them do everything by hand. But – what is the point of all this research and data collection? Is it just to find measures of central tendency?  Is it just to plot a histogram? No – it’s to use the data to answer interesting questions, make comparisons, and explore. The use of the calculator (or other technology if you have it) opens the door for students to explore.  They can compare multiple teams or players or test out ideas, or plot points to come up with equations, show multiple graphs from different teams on one grid. Lots of things that ‘by hand’ become cumbersome and tedious and defeat the purpose of this type of mathematical activity. I personally loved using a graphing calculator mainly because every student had access to one. This allowed everyone to be involved and they could work on separate, but related questions or they could work together to verify their conclusions.

Hopefully this gives you some things to think about and maybe try with your students while the NCAA is still going on. Happy calculating and if you have entered one of those work-pools for predicting the winner, hope you are beating the odds and your brackets are paying off!