Wednesday, August 8, 2007

If only every teacher was like Coach Mangini

Eric Mangini, the young coach of my beloved New York Jets, is known for being a master motivator, game planner, and for bringing surprise guests to camp to help get his team ready to go. Most recently, the best receiver in NFL history and dancer extraordinaire Jerry Rice stopped by Jets camp for a little motivational speaking:
"I just believe in the value of letting players hear how successful people became successful, or how their teams became successful," Mangini said. "The ingredients are really the same, regardless of whether it's football, baseball, basketball, hockey or whether you're at Johnson & Johnson. I mean, it's all the same core characteristics."
...or whether you're in Algebra class. Rice says it best himself (from a more detailed article on
"I practiced every day like it was a game situation."

"A lot of guys really want to get to the Super Bowl, get rewarded. But there are sacrifices you have to make, a dedication to how you do everything possible for your teammates. What you're trying to do is accomplish something together. If the next guy's not doing his job, it's like there's a weak link in that chain."
I try to get my students to take all the incremental tasks as seriously as the major ones--when they do, they're successful. In short, hard work, dedication, and teamwork were essential to Rice phenomenal success. It probably didn't hurt that he had a great, enthusiastic teacher in Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh, who passed away last week.

I wrote about Mangini and Rice instead of the mind-numbing curriculum meeting I've been attending all week because I've written enough about professional development, and since I haven't finished the many projects I'm working on, I wanted to offer something others could actually use in the classroom.

Last year, while researching curriculum ideas, I read about a guy using fantasy football in his math class as an engaging ongoing project. It turned his class around, and it wasn't long before I purchased Fantasy Football and Mathematics and the accompanying Student Workbook.

Basically, the kids have a fantasy team just like you would find on ESPN, Yahoo! or elsewhere. Instead of somebody else calculating the scores at the end of each weekend, the students themselves do the math. They solve algebraic expressions that get increasingly harder as the season wears on, but it's one of those things where the kids don't care that it's math because it's football, and even if a student doesn't care about that, it's still a competitive game played against other students (and every student loves that!).

Along with tabulating the scores, the workbook contains numerous football-themed activities and problems that complement the meat of the idea.

I missed the boat on fully implementing this in my classroom, but when I used bits and pieces to help students decipher word problems, I had great success.

Last year I told my students that every week the Jets won, we wouldn't have any homework the following Monday. I soon had a parent ask me why her son was watching and cheering for the New York Jets (despite the fact we're in south Texas) the previous weekend. I knew then that if I could grab students' attention with a mere mention, the whole system could work wonders for those kids I was unable to motivate last year (and push the rest even farther).

I hope to implement the whole system this fall as a fun experiment, and if so I'll chronicle the ups and downs here. In the meantime, for more information go to the Fantasy Sports and Mathematics official site. There are now resource books on baseball, soccer and basketball depending on your students' interests.

Want to see this in action? Mr. Hagen's Math Class details how one class used the system in a story that aired last year on ESPN's Outside the Lines. Here's the video: