New Class Looks Behind the Numbers

New Class Looks Behind the Numbers
Posted on 02/03/2023

A new math elective is helping Waterford-Halfmoon High School students look at numbers in a different light.

High School Math Teacher Paul Giammarco created the Mathematics and Sports class as an extension of his master’s degree program at the University at Buffalo. The class, which is offered to students in grades 10 through 12, encourages students to take an analytical approach to sports they love and incorporate lessons from their core curriculum math classes in new ways.

“It’s exciting to see the students understanding and appreciating math in a way that connects deeply to their personal interests,” said Mr. Giammarco. “This course is giving sports fans and those who maybe aren’t as involved in sports an equal opportunity to see games through a new lens. You don’t have to be the biggest Buffalo Bills fan in the world to understand and research outcome probabilities for how one of their players may perform on a given week. Through math, you get to eliminate opinion and level the playing field.”

So far this year, students have tackled topics related to football, bowling, and baseball. With football, students were tasked with creating their own, class-run fantasy football league. The class was broken up into six groups, with each group having at least one student familiar with traditional fantasy football to serve as a guide. From there, students were tasked with creating draft lists for players based solely on raw numbers and the probability of individual players reaching their projections based on past performance.

“It’s one thing to have an opinion of a certain player, but I wanted to challenge my class to think of each player in terms of the principles we’re learning on a daily basis,” said Mr. Giammarco. “I may think Stefon Diggs is the best wide receiver in the NFL, but can I find the data to back up my claim? That’s how I wanted the students to look at this league.”

The class next tackled bowling. A point of emphasis for this five-week lesson plan was probability outcomes, such as how likely a player is to pick up a spare based on which pins are left standing after the first bowl. Students utilized the 25-50-75-100 model, with 25% being unlikely, 50% being an even chance, 75% being likely, and 100% being a near-mathematical certainty.The students also took the time to learn different types of spares.

To put their lessons into practice, the class took a field trip to Iroquois Lanes in Canajoharie, NY to see if their models and projections held true. While at the lanes, students were given lessons in different bowling techniques from the pro of the house Jeff Voght.  After the class finished the bowling project, one student made a comment, “What if five pins on the first throw counted as a strike?” This prompted Mr. Giammarco to create a “Make Your Own Bowling League” project on the fly.

“It was fun to see the different variations they came up with,” said Mr. Giammarco. “For example,one group created a game where if you knocked down the number of pins for the frame you were playing, that would count as a strike. So, if you knocked down one pine in frame one, that’s a strike. Two pins in frame two, same thing. It was something I wouldn’t have thought of myself.”

Throughout the course, students also get the opportunity to become teachers. Students pitch research topics to Mr. Giammarco and are then responsible for creating a lesson plan to present to the class. Each lesson includes a PowerPoint presentation, class activity, and a discussion journal prompt. The project allows students to explore individual areas or sports that they’re interested in and share their passion with their classmates.

“There are an endless number of topics that I find interesting, but I want to discover what my students are interested in,” said Mr. Giammarco. “When students are given research topics that they are passionate about, the research stops feeling like class work. It lets you explore something that a student can take outside of my classroom.”

Mr. Giammarco is hoping the success of this class in its first year will encourage more students to sign up for it in the future. Students interested in signing up for the class must be enrolled in Regents Geometry, Regents Algebra II,  or have completed three years of mathematics. Mathematics and Sports counts as an elective and does not count toward math credits needed for graduation.