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Teaching Math ala the Football Model

Herb Childress is an ethnographer who spent a year observing students in a Northern California high school. He quickly noticed a stark contrast between students' boredom in classroom and their excitement on the playing field. In his own words, he did not see "learning at all, but boredom. I saw students talking in class, not listening to lectures, having conversations instead of working on their study guides, putting their heads on their desks, and tuning out."

One result of his study was his article "Seventeen Reasons Why Football is Better Than High School." For example, here are several of his observations:

  • Players are considered active participants rather than passive recipients
  • The unexpected happens all the time, so there is no time to coast or be unfocused
  • A player can let the team down
  • There is no such thing as "good enough." We are always asking players to excel
  • The adults who participate are genuinely interested
  • A public performance is expected
Now, I realize that mathematics is not a team sport, where classmates engage in regular competitions (other than those who opt to be on a Math Contest Team). However, reread each of those items...and reflect on your own classrooms. How can we as mathematics teacher bring in more activity, more of the unexpected, more of asking students to excel, and more of our own "genuine" interest in our students learning and mathematics itself?

Also, you might want to read Childress' full essay, expecially his last claim that we need a "varsity education."