Monday, December 8, 2008

Sports Statistics: Tallying Stats, Pondering Freakonomics

I don't think I can recall a project or activity I've done that has fully engaged students as much as this fantasy basketball project has. The students are dead silent all period, tracking down games where their players were active and writing down all of their relevant stats. They spend most of the time online using school-supplied laptops, yet they're not chatting, checking MySpace or anything you'd typically expect them to do when given unfettered Internet access.

The class only meets Monday and Wednesday, so the Thanksgiving holiday set us back just after we set up our teams. There was no real draft; students concentrated on making their teams fit under the salary cap outlined in the game rules. Each player was assigned a value before the season started, so there were a lot of bargains to be had with the first few weeks of it already behind us. In fact, anyone left off the "price list" is automatically priced at the minimum value. Celtics center Kendrick Perkins wasn't on the list, for example, so I placed him on my own team (yes, I set one up as another motivational tool for the students once we really get going).

Last Monday, the Internet wasn't working, so we weren't able to finish tallying stats for the first 2 weeks of games. We read a section from Freakonomics about sumo wrestlers cheating to lose, and how statistics prove it.

So last Wednesday was spent tracking down all of the stats from November 19th (draft day) through December 2nd. When we had first tried to track stats using the worksheet provided in Fantasy Basketball and Mathematics teacher's guide, I noticed that it lacked a few things:
  • There wasn't really a graphic organizer for students to easily write down each player's stats in each tracked category. Thus if they were writing down LeBron's stats for three games over the weekend, they could easily mix up numbers and make mistakes. While my students seem to enjoy the project, I know that they're easily thrown by having too many unwieldy numbers in front of them.
  • The curriculum's creators direct us to get our stats from box scores on The New York Times NBA scoreboard, which has a language all its own to decipher. There are tons of categories with several ambiguous abbreviations (for example, TOT for total rebounds because offensive and defensive rebounds are given their own columns), not to mention tons of players to sort through. A key for the abbreviation is missing from the curriculum book--in fact, the variables in the "Total Points Formula" don't match them, making things even worse.
  • There wasn't enough space for students to add up a player's points, rebounds, blocks, etc and still plug them into the equation we're using for their weekly stats.
So I created a graphic organizer for tracking stats throughout the first two weeks or so (8 games). You could trim it down to columns for 4 games if you were using it weekly. I added part of the original curriculum's worksheet onto the back page of that document, with the total points equation included so they could plug in their values for each category. It seemed to help the students track down each players' stats more quickly and easily, and they seemed to be grateful.

We weren't able to finish yet, so we can't create a leader board with everyone on it, or start doing things with the data we've collected. That's okay--everything we're doing is further investing the students in the process. Even the students who don't like basketball are into the mathematical side of the game. It's a nice change of pace from my usual math classes!

The best part of the class, actually, is working with a colleague of mine who is a die hard basketball junkie (and Celtics season ticket holder) in guiding the class. It's fun to watch him get excited as he gets to expound upon his NBA knowledge to help the kids build better teams. My fellow teachers are so talented at my school that I'm often in awe of them, and constantly reminded of how fortunate I am to work with them.