Gaining Girls' Interest in Football with Math

The rough and tumble game of football does not always appeal to a female audience. Girls may have a difficult time appreciating the game. It can be hard for them to connect to football, especially when female players are few and far between. Fans of football look forward to watching their teams battle on the gridiron; and talking about the game is a great way to illustrate math lessons to students. While not all male students are interested in the sport, you can be sure that fewer girls have a piquant interest in football. How can you bring the love of the game to your students without alienating the girls—and boys—in your classroom? Present it as a real-life model of how math and strategy play out on the field. Add football activities to your teaching playbook to coach your students in math, strategy, and life lessons while developing a love for the game.

Carry the Football Theme into Your Lessons on Probability

Pique your students' interest by telling a personal football anecdote or by showing the class archived footage of an amazing play on the field. Focus on finding an example that not only demonstrates how the odds may be calculated but also one that appeals to both boys and girls. Since boys tend to be more familiar with the game than girls, they are better able to visualize stories told orally. Try looking for some examples that do not rely heavily on knowing how the game is played—those examples will come later after more students know the jargon and have a basic understanding of gameplay. Instead, consider footage of a referee being tackled accidentally or an animal disrupting the action on the field, for example. Discuss what the chances are of an incident like those occurring in a future game. It may be difficult to calculate such odds, but it will give all the students in your class a better understanding of the kind of data needed to figure out this question.

When students are aware of the kind of data generated in a football game, they can use this information to make predictions about the possible outcomes that could take place in a game. Girls who like math will find that football is chock-full of mathematical possibilities. From field goals to first downs to touchdowns, a team's experience can be an indicator of how well they will play against an opponent. Male and female students can learn to appreciate the game and the quantitative science behind it—especially when a team goes against the odds to do the unexpected. Seeing this kind of scenario play out on the field may help youngsters in making wise life choices, too. Coaches consider their team members' statistics to help them determine what plays to call during a game. Coaches use the numbers to make informed decisions about how to improve weak skills during practice. The goal is to win, and that requires hard work and perseverance. Many girls may frown upon the competitive nature of football, seeing the sport as a sport and not as a learning tool that can help them look at life through a different lens. You can help kids see this different point-of-view, however. Demonstrate how weighing stats can help one in making an informed decision just like a coach.

The Gridiron

The football field itself offers ample opportunities for students to practice math skills, plus it can be used as a metaphor for attaining life goals, as well. As a team fights to move the ball into their end zone for a touchdown, they are covering portions of the field at a time. Practice using fractions with the yard lines on the field. Show students images of a field that have been shaded to represent how many yards the ball traveled in a play. Students can practice describing the value in fractions or in percentages. Again, girls can appreciate the numerical data generated by the game even if they are not into the game itself. Still, point out the hard work and ultimate effort a team must put forth if they want to find themselves in a winning position. Talk with your students about sportsmanship, too. The game can only be played if the teams willingly respect the rules. Football is a rough sport, but the game demands order from its players or penalties ensue, just as in everyday life.

How to Talk to Your Class

If you love football and want your students to love it, too, be sure to talk about it in a way that is appealing to the boys in your class and especially the girls, as they may be a bit more aloof when the sport is the topic of the conversation. Football is a great sport to tap into when creating your own story problems for math practice, but do not lose your class by using specific players' names. Stick to using team names and mascots. You may even want to provide students with novelty items featuring NFL or local sports teams to get them interested. Likewise, keep the vocabulary associated with the sport simple. Make sure you have explained any unfamiliar terms. It is wrong to assume that students will already know the basics. Part of what turns people off about the game is that they do not understand who can do what on the field and what is acceptable and unacceptable play. A basic overview of the game may be all you need to share with students to clarify how the game is played; thus, making it interesting those who may have been indifferent to the sport. This will help make your math lessons go more smoothly, too. Additionally, girls who had not cared for the sport may find it intriguing after some guided experience with the game. Explain to students how it is human nature to shun activities and hobbies that we don't understand, but given time and guidance, an appreciation for those things foreign to us may develop.

More Ways to Engage Girls

Another way to engage female students with your football-themed math lessons is to highlight female football players and team staff. Look for local examples—your area's high school may have a female player of its own. Consider inviting this person in to meet your class. Be it a player on the field or a coach on the sidelines, a woman involved with football can discuss with your class the challenges and triumphs she has experienced in a sport dominated by men. Women such as these can motivate students into understanding probability and imagining possibility.