Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sports Statistics: Using Fantasy Basketball to Teach Math

At my charter school, our faculty teaches both 70 minute long block classes (in my case, Algebra I & II) and at least one 55 minute short block class twice a week. Last quarter, my short block was SAT Math Prep. It was horrible for a number of reasons:

  • Students were forced to take it, even though many weren't interested in taking the test any time soon (if ever).
  • The class was overcrowded.
  • It was at the very end of our 8 hour school day.
  • Poor planning and execution by yours truly.
I was determined to make my short block class for this quarter as interesting and engaging as possible. I wanted to give students a chance to earn learn math in a completely unexpected way, almost without them realizing it. A colleague had mentioned a sports statistics class he had taught in the past, and I immeadiately remembered the fantasy sports and mathematics curriculum I tried to use last year.

In that case, we used fantasy football, but it was too late in the season to pick up with that. Besides, football is nowhere near as popular with my current students as it was with my South Texas kiddos. The timing and situation was perfect to use fantasy basketball as the centerpiece of my new class.

The curriculum breaks down as follows:

  • Students draft a fantasy basketball team, using player values and a salary cap devised by the Fantasy Sports and Mathematics (FSM) developers.
  • Every day in class, students look up the statistics for their starting players since the last class. Since we meet twice a week, this means that players might have played 2-3 times since our last class meeting.
  • Each statistical category we track has an assigned value. We use a "total points equation" to figure out our total points for the week.
  • As we start collecting more and more data, we'll use it to complete all different types of math problems.
  • Besides the project, we'll discuss the growing role of statistics in sports today, reading and analyzing other kinds of data than just those from our fantasy basketball project.
  • Grades are based on daily maintenance of their fantasy teams and participation in discussions and related math assignments.

FSM directs users to the New York Times website to find basketball stats, as it's comprehensive and relatively easy to read and navigate. FSM publishes a teacher's edition and student workbook that provide worksheets for creating teams, tracking data, and applying the ideas to a wide range of math problems:

I can tell you that the students I have, even those that don't know anything about basketball or hadn't signed up for the class on their own, are engaged in the project even in its early stages. I expect things to get even more exciting as we post up weekly scores for the first time, and students get more into the competitive spirit.

There's no shortage of interesting articles and books to read on the subject of sports statistics; indeed, there's an entire industry that's exploding right before our eyes. As I told my students, you could study mathematics and get a job with a company, league or franchise doing things that nobody even thought of just a decade ago.

I'll continue keeping you updated on how the class progresses. In the meantime, if you're interested in exploring this as a possible class, unit or project, here's a recommended reading list:

  1. Moneyball - The book that changed baseball, and sports, forever.
  2. Fantasy Basketball and Mathematics: Teacher's Guide
  3. Fantasy Basketball and Mathematics: Student Workbook
  4. Freakonomics (check out the section on cheating sumo wrestlers)
  5. "Hoop Data Dreams" [article from the Freakonomics blog at the NY Times]
  6. "Fantasy sports now 27 million player, $800 million business" [article from South Florida Sun-Sentinel]
  7. More fantasy sports articles here on

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Best ELL Sites for 2008

In case you missed it, Larry Ferlazzo compiled his annual review of The Best Internet Sites for English Language Learners - 2008 back in August. Larry focuses on fun, easy to use, interactive websites that allow students to create something meaningful and memorable. There's something for just about every subject here, but no matter what you're teaching, you would be wise to share it with your ELLs and perhaps even offer them extra credit for producing something. Everything you can do to help them improve their English language skills, whether it be directly related to your subject area or not, is worth it.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Teach2000 Creates Flash Cards for Free

I've found that whether it was social studies or math, middle or high school, most students just don't know how to study. I can't tell you how many times I've told students about flash cards and had them come back and tell me how helpful it was. Using index cards will never go out of style, but now there's a powerful Windows program to help.

Teach2000 is a free flash card creation program worth putting on your home, work and students computers. It makes creating, saving and keeping track of different sets of flash cards easy.

Imagine this potential project: students are split into groups, each concentrating on creating relevant flash cards for different aspects of the same unit. Then, they could easily combine and share their cards so that everyone could have a complete, thorough set to study with. This is the kind of fun, simple tool that can help breathe life into the initimidating and often boring process of studying for an exam.

[Originally posted on Lifehacker; click through for more great ideas and resources]

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Mathway: A Website That Solves and Explains Math Problems!

It looks like math teachers are about to become obsolete: Mathway is a website where you can type in problems ranging from basic math to Calculus and not only get the answer, but a step-by-step explanation. All of the key vocabulary words in each explanation are linked to an online glossary. You can graph answers on the coordinate plane when needed as well.

This should be on every students' list of sites to use for homework help, as well as a great self-directed way for students to check their own work. You could do anything from a set of problems, project or test and then have students correct everything themselves and get detailed explanations all from one website. It's fantastic.

There's not much about the people behind this great, free resource, but the company is called Bagatrix, which if I recall correctly was selling software not too long ago that did the same things Mathway does. If this is them reinventing themselves, I think they'll have a bright future.

Originally linked by Larry Ferlazzo, the go-to guy for everything educational on the web.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Coordinate Plane Battleship Game: 2008 Edition

I was taught from my first days as a teacher that no matter how good a lesson is, there's always an improvement to be made. Everything is a work in progress, and nothing will ever truly be finished. So it should come as no surprise that I redesigned a successful lesson for the third time last week. That lesson was Sink the Sir, a Battleship-style game used to teach students the coordinate plane.

The previous version was designed to be me vs. them, with each of us taking turns firing at each others' ships. Their graphic organizer had a single coordinate plane with a domain and range from -5 to 5. This was their board, to keep track of their ships and shots fired at them. The enemy's board (mine) was displayed on the whiteboard, to make it easy to follow and to provide a clear model for everyone. Besides marking "hits" and "misses" via ordered pairs, they labeled parts (x and y-axis, quadrants, origin) that I used to give them hints as to where they might find my ships. Afterward, students did some simple problems for independent practice.

This year, with my "if it ain't broke, fix it anyway" mindset intact, I tweaked the game to address two problems, one of which was apparently only in my imagination. Sink the Sir was immediately rechristened Sink Mr. D (my current students don't call me "Sir" as my south Texas students did). First, the coordinate plane was too big, and the game dragged on too long without any hits. I followed my own advice and changed the domain and range to -4 to 4.

Secondly, I added a second plane to their graphic organizers, designed for keeping track of hits and misses against my fleet. In the end I had to draw my plane on the board just as I had last year, which made the changes moot. When I was reflecting on the game before last week, I wanted to recreate the experience of the real game more closely. I had thoughts of manila folders with two pages of coordinate planes facing each other on the inside, and then some sort of contraption to hold them open without making them visible to me. In the end I decided only to tweak the organizer, which while still ill-advised, was far better than what I had been thinking.

In this case, my old lesson was actually better, and I wholeheartedly recommend that version (with the smaller coordinate plane as discussed above). So as to not completely dismiss my hard work this time around, I recommend the 2008 edition as a good way to do student vs. student games (you could use manila folders as separators).

Sink The Sir (2007 version)
Sink Mr. D (2008 version)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

198th Carnival of Education: Christmas Creep Edition!

I hear those sleigh bells jingling; ring-ting-ting-a-ling, too.
Oh yes it's lovely weather for a Carnival of Education with you!

Welcome one and all to the Christmas Creep Edition of the COE, which also happens to be the 198th opening of the midway.

The term christmas creep, coined by the Wharton School at UPenn and popularized recently by The Consumerist, is a term for the retail world's ever-expanding holiday season. Decorations, music and merchandise are going up earlier and earlier each year as retailers try to get a leg up on the competition. For example, my local supermarket refashioned their Halloween aisle into a Christmas aisle seemingly before that holiday was even over!

With Thanksgiving just a week away, what better time to start celebrating the real holiday season? Here we go! I'm so glad that Jane Goodwin was able to get her submission in just before the deadline, because her Quotation Saturday posted at Scheiss Weekly talks about anticipation of the very raison d'ĂȘtre of this edition of the COE!

Gifts That Keep on Giving
[Great resources for teachers and everyone else]

Steve Spangler presents Milk of Magnesia Experiment - Color Changing Liquid Teaches Science Behind�Antacids posted at Steve Spangler's Blog.

Gemma presents Education - advice videos on School posted at VideoJug: LIfe Explained. On Film. More video goodness comes from Heather Johnson, who presents 100 Awesome Ivy League Video Lectures posted at Online

Mathew Needleman presents K12 Online 08 Week Two Review posted at Open Court Blog.

Jim McGuire brings music and lyrics into reading lessons in Come on Readers, Let's Sing posted at The Reading Workshop.

The always helpful Larry Ferlazzo presents Students Can Share Their Vision With The Office Of The President-Elect Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day... posted at Larry Ferlazzo's Websites Of The Day For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL.

Amy Smith presents What Really Happened at the First Thanksgiving? posted at Kids Love Learning.

Marjorie presents When it Looks Like They're Not Learning posted at The Life Without School Community Blog, saying, "Thank you." No, thank you!

Pat presents How Was My Lesson? posted at Successful Teaching.

Marcus Smith presents 3 Painfully Obvious Reasons to Speak in Plain English posted at

Amanda Dixon presents Homeschool Memoirs: ?Mom? Help! posted at The Daily Planet, saying, "as a homeschooler, everyone needs a little "help". Here is how I get some help when I am stressed!"

Make a New Year's Resolution to learn Spanish this coming year: Spanish Kit presents An Introduction to Spanish Nouns and Genders posted at Learn Spanish Blog, saying, "Nouns and genders to start off anyone interested in learning spanish." Follow that up with Speak7 presents Ser vs Estar, Tener vs Hay Que posted at Learn Spanish, saying, "Complete guide to help with these common Spanish verbs"

How to Cause Uncomfortable Silences at Your Big Holiday Dinner
[Politics and controversy in education]

CCUSD Watch presents Scottsdale teachers charging for letters of recommendations... posted at CCUSD Watch, saying, "CCUSD Watch is an advocacy organization focused on Cave Creek Unified School District No. 93. Our Motto is 'It’s the curriculum, stupid!'. Contact us at" Joanne Jacobs comments on the same issue in How much for a recommendation letter? posted at Joanne Jacobs.

Matthew Ladner presents The Proficiency Illusion posted at Jay P. Greene's Blog.

BardBlogger presents Is Our Children Learning? posted at The Bard Blog.

jim pudlewski presents Test scores improve, but is that helping students? - Teaching Excellence Network posted at Teaching Excellence Network, saying, "Is NCLB accomplishing its goals. In Chicago, it is not resulting in college-ready graduates."

Darren presents Pledge of Allegiance posted at Right on the Left Coast: Views From a Conservative Teacher.

Travis A. Wittwer presents Stories from School: Practice meets Policy: How to Take Down a State Education System in 3 Easy Steps posted at Stories from School: Practice meets Policy.

woodlassnyc wonders Is there a blacklist? posted at Under Assault: Teaching in NYC.

Nancy Flanagan presents The Audacity of Pumpkin Pie posted at Teacher in a Strange Land, saying, "Jay Mathews muses on evaluating teachers--and the Teacher in a Strange Land approves. Have some pie."

Robert Pondiscio presents Gates Foundation Standards? Why Not? posted at The Core Knowledge Blog, saying, "The Gates Foundation is talking about trying its hand at drafting national standards. It's a fine idea."

Something to Make You Laugh and Cry (Besides "A Christmas Story")
[Hilarity and inspiration, all twirled into one]

NAOMI presents British kids believe Churchill walked on the moon. posted at Diary From England, saying, "Thought your readers might be interested in this post. Just shows how little some British schoolchildren know about the world around them."

Travis A. Wittwer presents My Neighbor's Bike Skills posted at Stories from School: Practice meets Policy, saying, "A parody of many commonly used teaching tactics."

Carol Richtsmeier presents More Stupidier, FERPA-ized & Conspiracy Theories posted at Bellringers.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron presents Fundraising Mafia posted at

Mister Teacher presents Learn Me Good: Tales of a 3rd grade forger posted at Learn Me Good.

Exams are Over, and I'm Home for the Month!

[College-related articles]

Matthew Paulson presents More Options for Working Moms, mostly focused on how working moms can go back to school, posted at American Consumer News.

Michael. presents The AutoAdmit Scandal: The XOXOTH Secret Forum Identities posted at International Law News.

Khan presents Preparing for the Peace Corps posted at Higher Education and Career Blog, saying, "It’s never too early to start learning about the Peace Corps! And even though graduation may seem a long way off, there are some things you can do now that could help you qualify for Peace Corps programs when the time comes to apply."

Trisha Wagner presents Student Loan Debt Settlement Debt Free Destiny posted at Debt Free Destiny.

Deep Thoughts and Reflections in Front of the Fire
[Big ideas and reflections on education]

lorri giovinco-harte presents Learning to distinguish between motives of profit and the well being of children posted at Lorri Giovinco-Harte, saying, "When the lines between profiteering and education become blurred, how can we discern what information is valid and what is not?"

Alvaro Fernandez presents Neuroplasticity and the Brain That Changes Itself posted at SharpBrains, saying, "Review of a great book with compelling collection of tales about the amazing abilities of the brain to rewire, readjust and relearn."

Laurie Bluedorn presents Trivium Pursuit » Blog Archive » Talented and Gifted posted at Laurie Bluedorn.

oldandrew presents Success posted at Scenes From The Battleground, saying, "British blog about teaching in tough schools"

Dave Saba presents Building a GREAT teaching workforce posted at DoE- Dave on Ed.
Corey Bunje Bower
speaks to the same issue in What to do about Teacher Certification? posted at Thoughts on Education Policy.

Clix presents Why I Hate Foreshadowing posted at Epic Adventures Are Often Uncomfortable.

Rense Nieuwenhuis presents Immigrant Children’s Educational Achievement in Western Countries: Origin, Destination, and Community Effects on Mathematical Performance Curving Normality posted at Curving Normality.

Katie Beals presents 6th Grade English Class in the 21st Century: multiple literacies posted at Out In Left Field, saying, "Out in Left Field s a blog for left-brainers that monitors right-brain biases (esp. Reform Math, Constructivism, and cooperative learning) in education and elsewhere."

And finally, one of my personal favorite bloggers, Brazen Teacher presents Not on the List posted at This Brazen Teacher.

Don't forget to indulge in last week's COE, hosted at The Core Knowledge Blog, as well as past and future carnivals by visiting the Blog Carnival website. You might also be interested in the 166th COE, hosted here back in April. Go ahead and start submitting for next week's edition on this handy submission form. Thank you!

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Another Sample Student Survey

Getting constructive feedback from your students is essential to your growth and improvement in the classroom. I'm constantly trying to write new student feedback surveys to get them to open up and give me their unique perspective into how things are going.

The school year at my current school is broken into quarters, the first of which ended last week. As I usually do, I asked students to fill out a short survey after their exams. I based this on a college professor's end of course survey that asked the kind of simple, straightforward questions I wanted the answers to.

Unfortunately I didn't get a lot out of the results this time around. I'm convinced things aren't going very well, but I got a lot of responses that suggested I not change anything and that things were fine. I also had a very low response rate. In the end I'm still wondering what it is I'm doing wrong because to be honest, it's been an incredibly difficult year so far. I'm hard pressed to identify a more challenging year in my short career, which is saying something.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Submit Your Carnival of Education Entries!

This week's Carnival of Education will be hosted right here this Wednesday! Submissions are due by 6:30 pm Tuesday. Check out last week's carnival hosted at The Core Knowledge Blog in preparation!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Create a Custom BINGO Review Game Easily

The BINGO Master template is probably my most tried-and-true, favorite review game for classroom use. I've used it since my first year of teaching, and it's always been successful, even with the most difficult classrooms. It's also painfully simple.

Steve Mashburn, Coordinator of Online Education for Forsyth County Schools in Georgia, created this spreadsheet in 2001. You type in 25 vocabulary words and definitions, and then click the "Print Bingo Cards" button. Within seconds, 30 different bingo cards and a call sheet are generated and ready to print.

Vocabulary, of course, is not the only way to use BINGO Master. I used it for end-of-quarter Algebra I & II review recently. Algebra I students solved one and two-step equations and found the answers on their bingo cards, with numerical answers appearing on their cards and the equations on the call sheet. I would write them out, doing an example here and there to guide them along. Algebra II students factored polynomials in their version of the game.

In previous years, we played basic operations bingo--operations on integers, evaluating expressions and order of operations problems. This would be ideal for the first week or two of Algebra I and for pre-algebra lessons in earlier grades.

Make sure your spreadsheet program has macros enabled in order for it to work. Otherwise, this is about as flexible and easy to use as anything in your teaching arsenal.

For more flexible, easy ideas, check out my book Ten Cheap Lessons: Easy, Engaging Ideas for Every Secondary Classroom.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Decorate Your Classroom On the Cheap, Convert PDF to Text, & Learn About Ballot Initiatives

I want to share three great resources I found through Lifehacker, the personal productivity and technology website, which is worth checking out on a regular basis for any teacher.
  1. Block Posters breaks down images into printable pieces, which means you could make big posters for your classroom for free (save the cost of ink or printing, which hopefully you can do for free at school). Check out their gallery for some inspiration. [Original post]
  2. You can now convert PDF files into editable text files via Google, saving you (and your school and district) from needing to purchase expensive software. [Original post]
  3. For anyone teaching about local and state ballot initiatives and the election in general, Ballotpedia is a great resource to use with your students. This would be great for upper level high school students studying civics or politics. [Original post]

Ten Cheap Lessons now available free for all Teach For America Corps Members & Alumni

If you are currently a Teach For America corps member or an alumni like me (RGV '03), you can now download the digital version of my book for free via TFA's new Resource Exchange. All you have to do is log in on, click on "Resource Exchange" and search for "Ten Cheap Lessons" (make sure you include the quotation marks). This is one small way for me to give back to the organization that gave me the greatest, most challenging experience of my life.

If you don't fall into the above categories, you can find Ten Cheap Lessons: Easy, Engaging Ideas for Every Secondary Classroom at, Barnes & Noble and other fine retailers.