Throwing Football into Math

You will never hear a master math teacher declare that football is just a game. Football can be used to illustrate essential mathematical concepts: addition, percentages, averages, and probability all have their place on the playing field. Games on the gridiron constantly provide new opportunities for students to see how math skills can be applied to real-life situations. Using football to teach math is sure to spark the interest of the sports fans in your class, but everyone can benefit from the practice of applying math to the game. With a little background knowledge about how football is played, you can craft successful lessons for your class.

First, the students in your math class need to understand the object of the game, including how points are scored. Besides earning six points for a touchdown, a team can score points four other ways. Following a touchdown, a team can earn one point with a successful extra point kick. Besides scoring this way, a team may try to follow up a touchdown by attempting a two-point conversion, which is worth, not surprisingly, two points. Instead of kicking the ball for an extra point, the conversion requires the team's quarterback to run the ball, hand it to a teammate, or pass it to a teammate; no matter the way the ball is moved, the team has only one chance to get the ball into the end zone to receive the two points for the conversion. A field goal is another way to score. The offensive team may decide to try kicking the ball through the goal at their end zone. If successful, a field goal brings three points. A safety is the last possible way for a team to add points to their score. A safety occurs when the offensive team's ball handler is tackled in his own end zone, thus bringing the defensive team two points.

While the point system may not give some members of your class difficulty, others may benefit from seeing each type in a visual aide. Use online videos to illustrate each possible way to score. Viewing game highlights in your football lessons for teaching math is essential. Doing so will add a bit of excitement to a subject that gets a bad rap about being boring! Plus, highlights and clips of great plays can be a great way to introduce the sport to those unfamiliar with the game.

Once students understand the football point system, you are ready to warm up their addition skills. You can begin by writing the score of a game—real or fictitious—on the board and ask students to explain the possible ways each team scored its points. You can also have students solve or write equations and story problems that integrate data from recent games in the NFL or at the college or high school level.

Prior to a big game, have students guess who will win and what the final score will be. Offer prizes to those students who have made correct predictions. Students may be able to increase their likelihood of winning if they learn to calculate probability, interpret statistics, and analyze data.

If your math standards include understanding and applying percentages, football can help you achieve that. Have students use current records to determine what percentage of games played a team has won. Students can also investigate the percentage of times the ball is passed to the star receiver. Another comparison to make is between the number of pass plays and run plays.

In football math lessons, students can practice working with averages. Students can use math to figure out anything from a team's average age of players to a team's average passing yards. These types of practice problems are great places to commence a discussion with your students about what constitutes as useful information and to whom it is useful. For instance, you may discuss how the data could influence a coach's decisions.

When it comes to probability, the odds are that you will work it into your football-themed math lessons easily! Have students discuss the possible events that could occur on the field and then have them calculate the likelihood of it occurring. Requiring such demonstrations will help students practice a new skill, but also show them that, in all actuality, a football game can defy the odds and make a lot of headlines the next day.

As you prepare to craft your math lessons that use the sport of football, you should begin a collection of teaching aides, artifacts, and resources. Bookmark your favorite sports websites and keep the statistics and articles printed about games in the newspaper. Keep an eye out for infographics and other charts and graphs that feature football stats. Visual aides like these can be used to have students determine the kind of data that was needed to create it. You can also have students determine whether the aide is objective and who the audience is. Whether you use football in a mini-lesson or in lessons throughout the whole season, every football game has endless math applications.