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Fantasy Game
Helps Students
"Pass" Math

Many youngsters crunch sports statistics, yet never think of that as doing math. But a curriculum developed by a former middle school math teacher that combines math with Fantasy Football is scoring big with students. Included: A description of the Fantasy Football and Math curriculum.

Hoping to find a way to get his middle school students more engaged in studying math, teacher Daniel Flockhart wove the popular fantasy Football game into his lessons. Students "draft" players, "manage" teams, and calculate how their players and teams are doing throughout the season.

Daniel Flockhart

The program proved so popular with his students that Flockhart developed a curriculum called Fantasy Football and Mathematics, geared for students in grades 5-12. The guide for teachers and parents includes the rules of Fantasy Football, instructions for reading box scores and computing points, and 27 math skills students could use in the curriculum.

In 2004, Flockhart launched Fantasy Sports and Mathematics, a company that develops and publishes math curriculum for teachers and parents. Fans of the football curriculum have asked Flockhart for fantasy programs for baseball, basketball, and soccer, and he plans to release those in the near future.

Flockhart now teaches college success courses for low-income and first-generation college students at College of the Redwoods in Eureka, California. He talked with Education World about the Fantasy Football and Math program, and how he has seen it motivate students, both male and female.

Education World: Can you briefly outline how the Fantasy Football and Mathematics curriculum works?

"I spent several years piloting the program in my classroom; the result was that Fantasy Sports were the most successful curriculum I used in 11 years of teaching math," says former middle school teacher Daniel Flockhart, creator of Fantasy Football and Mathematics.

Daniel Flockhart: Fantasy Sports are games in which students draft and manage fantasy teams of professional athletes, who earn points based on their statistics from real games. The students' fantasy teams compete against each other with the goal of the game consisting of accumulating the greatest number of points. Students track their teams' progress by reading box scores (statistical summaries of games) in newspapers or online. Each week, students compute the points earned by their players and construct a variety of graphs based on their teams' performance. In addition, worksheets can be integrated throughout the game to reinforce concepts.

EW: What inspired you to create Fantasy Football and Mathematics?

Flockhart: In the early 1990's, I taught middle school mathematics in the San Francisco Bay area. At that time, I had been playing Fantasy Football for ten years. I realized that in order to maximize student interest, I needed to use curriculum that students could actually relate to. I've always believed that sports statistics represent a powerful tool for teaching mathematics, and my intuition led me to believe that math and sports statistics could dovetail into meaningful curriculum that could engage and motivate students. This belief stemmed in large part from my participation in sports as a young boy and my attempts to mentally compute statistics while the games were still in progress. For example, I used to mentally compute my batting average as I stood on first base after getting a hit in Little League.

One of the tenets of my philosophy of education is that the most important outcome for students is to become life-long learners. [As a part of that,] students need to acquire a love (or at the very least, an interest) for mathematics. This task is more attainable if students are able to make connections between math at home and math at school, and these connections are easier to make if curriculum can be linked to students' previous experience. John Dewey was on the right track when he stated that, "We must keep the curriculum close to the student." I believe this is particularly important for students in inner cities, as their experiences don't often match the content found in traditional math textbooks. In fact, I developed the program from a social justice perspective, as my intention was to help motivate marginalized urban youth so they can help themselves to break out of the poverty cycle.

The first year I introduced the game, students ran into my room on a daily basis asking if they could play. When the football season ended, students wanted to know if they could play Fantasy Basketball. I didn't have a curriculum designed for that sport yet, but I said yes anyway! I spent several years piloting the program in my classroom; the result was that Fantasy Sports were the most successful curriculum I used in 11 years of teaching math.

I developed the final product as a thesis project for a graduate degree at Humboldt State University in 2002. As part of the project, several teachers piloted the material, and I refined the program based on their feedback.

EW: What do you think are the most appealing aspects of the curriculum for kids?

Flockhart: There are many aspects of Fantasy Sports that make for a perfect fit for students. First, the games promote a student-centered environment rather than a teacher-led classroom. Students can make trades, draft any players they want, and decide on their starting lineup each week. This autonomy is something that adolescents crave, yet often don't get much of. In my experience, some students perceive their lives as a series of directions from teachers and parents. Fantasy Sports gives them independence that can help to facilitate their social and cognitive development. No one can tell them what to do with their team, and they enjoy the feeling of power and control that comes with managing a franchise. Students are also motivated to do the math because they want to find out how their teams performed compared to their classmates' teams. Fantasy Sports are also hands-on programs because the inclusion of newspapers, technology, and graphing activities brings in the kinesthetic element and helps to address all learning styles. I also designed one-third of the worksheets in the book to be used in conjunction with a graph, thereby addressing research indicating that visual aids help facilitate learning for learning-disabled students as well as visual learners.

EW: What types of skills can students practice with the Fantasy Sports curriculum?

Flockhart: Examples of concepts addressed include ratio and proportion, area and perimeter, mean, median, mode, and range, and operations with fractions, decimals, and whole numbers. Additional concepts include functions, area, and circumference of circles, scientific notation, and data depiction, as well as several worksheets that deal with percentages. The program includes 46 practice worksheets and 46 matching quizzes, with each worksheet representing a different concept.

In addition, the curriculum addresses nine National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Standards and more than 60 NCTM Expectations. Younger students use a non-algebraic method to compute points while older students can use an algebraic method that includes a variety of linear equations. Moreover, I recently developed 92 equations that will allow teachers the flexibility to select the content that is most appropriate for the skill level of their students. For example, some equations use decimals, while other equations use summations, factorials, whole numbers, positive exponents, negative exponents, or fractions with different common denominators.

EW: Not to sound sexist, but how do girls respond to the program?

Flockhart: I was initially concerned the game would marginalize girls. However, once the game began I was pleasantly surprised because girls were as successful and had as much fun as boys. The girls got a kick out of being successful in a field that has traditionally been dominated by males.

There are two facets to Fantasy Sports that promote equality. The first is the salary cap. Students are given imaginary money to purchase their players. In theory, if two students spend all of their money then their teams are relatively equal. The second equalizer in Fantasy Sports is old-fashioned luck. Anything can happen in the world of Fantasy Sports, and it usually does.

EW: How difficult is it for teachers who are not sports fans to implement the curriculum?

Flockhart: This is such a relevant question, and one that I've spent considerable time trying to address. I designed this curriculum to make it as user-friendly as possible, especially for teachers who don't know anything about football. As a result, the program is comprehensive. It numbers 180 pages, and includes student handouts, examples of graphs, a pre- and post-tests, lesson plans, and step-by-step instructions on how to read box scores, compute points, and integrate the game into existing curricula. This is the first year teachers are using the program, so I have only a couple months of data to go on, but so far the feedback I've received has been overwhelmingly positive. That said, I look forward to more input from teachers who are using the product so I can make revisions to the next edition, as well as address their issues in Fantasy Basketball and Fantasy Baseball.

This e-interview with Daniel Flockhart is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2009 Education World

Originally published 11/30/2005
Last updated 03/20/2009