Case Study: How a maths teacher makes his subject interesting

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?