May 3, 2018

Mathematical Lessons In Baseball Games

So your kid hates math but they love baseball? Good news, then: they don’t hate math as much as they think.

Most sports are chalk full of mathematics, most especially statistics. And as a Graduate of the University of Waterloo with a Statistics major, I don’t lie when I say that getting your kids interested in sports can boost their interest in math.

Baseball in particular has a plethora of numbers that get discussed every minute of the game. Young children learn important concepts used in everyday life like Imperial measure with distance of the ball in yards, Rates through discussing the speed of the ball, and even a little physics when they put up a visual of the path of the ball and it’s velocity as it heads out of the park for a homerun.

By being in front of the TV or the jumbotron when they are at the game children are exposed to decimals and percents through all the values displayed for the upcoming batter.  (Albeit some incorrect pronunciation and confusion with percents when it comes to batting average since we don’t technically read the number 0.500 as “five hundred” in the math classroom, but that’s where teaching to the moment comes in handy.) Decimal values with pitching ERA are also great way for kids to read numbers and to say them accurately, in addition to having a conversation with them about the meaning of average.

Children as young as grade one are making bar graphs to illustrate data and make conclusions.  Exposing the children to the circle graphs shown for pitchers (like Marco Estrada, for instance) to illustrate various types of pitches they use in a game (or a season), or a diagram showing the location in the outfield where the batter hits to are great ways to see some of the things they’ve done in their classrooms in real life.

As a math teacher myself, I can tell you that the use of large numbers in discussing salaries of players is a helpful connection to the classroom.  Seeing the six (or seven or eight) digit numbers in their various forms and saying their values in words (ala Josh Donaldson and “twenty-three million dollars” with $23 000 000 and $23 million) helps children see the connections in the various ways that things can be displayed.

But above all, statistics appear in the game itself and out the mouths of all our favourite commentators (on screen and via radio broadcast).  I have the greatest respect for the often used phrase of “small sample size” which has become a common end to many of the values shared early on in the season.  This is really the heart of valid statistics in that the larger the sample the more reliable the results, so hearing them say it reiterates what students hear in the classroom. Moreover, it’s not just that their teacher says it, it must be a real thing because Buck Martinez says it!

This is my favourite time of year to be a Grade 12 Data Management teacher as many of my students will turn to use baseball statistics for their major analysis project.  Just this week, my class investigated a relationship we hypothesized would exist:  Wins vs Homeruns.  My class took all 40 completed seasons of Toronto Blue Jays data and compared the data  Unfortunately, we were unable to conclude that a strong relationship existed between the two variables, or that the number of homeruns hit does not cause the team to win games. (Much to the dismay of one student who is a die-hard Jays fan.) However, they were quick to point out that perhaps the sample size was too small and should include all the teams over the 40 year span.  Ah, be still my beating heart. I have gotten through to them.

Take those opportunities during the game to ask your children if they’ve ever done anything like that in class before.  Where have they seen similar graphs? Can they tell you what average is? Can they explain what “five hundred” means? These are opportunities that you can use to help take down math anxiety and really illustrate to them that math doesn’t just happen in the classroom setting.

The next time that your little one gets down on their math homework, or spouts off the overused “I’m not good at math” line, remind them about baseball. Try to connect it to the math they may be doing and with luck, you’ll turn that frown upside down.

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