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Learning Statistics Via Sports

Multiple columns on this website have focused on resources focusing on the mathematics underlying the playing and understanding of various sports. And, the columns will continue...

A recent addition is Josh Tabor And Christine Franklin's book Statistical Reasoning in Sports (2013). Their goal was to approach the Common Core Standards for Statistics and Probability by engaging students via relevant examples, prompting them to ask questions, collect and analyze data, and then make conclusions via appropriate statistical tests.

Both authors have extensive experiences with AP statistics courses. This is reflected in their effort to get students to explore sports-related questions by designing experiments and performing hands-on simulations. Key tools are TI-84 routines and free applets (offered on a website specific to supporting the use of this book).

In place of problems about failure rates of widgets, the content is driven using real data to investigate sports questions. Each chapter is opened with a specific question. Some examples of the questions:

  • Is there a home field advantage in football or baseball?
  • Is it possible for a basketball player to get a hot hand?
  • Do high tech swimsuits really make a swimmer faster?
  • When should a football team "go for it" on fourth down?
  • Is it harder to shoot free-throws with distractions?
  • When teeing off, what is the difference between hitting the ball long or hitting it straight?
  • Did LeBron James choke in the 2008 playoffs (let alone the following times!)?
Up front, the authors note differences in their text, besides their use of sports question to motivate content. That is, the book alters the standard sequence of topics, choosing to integrate the learning of new statistical skills while using those skills in a broad context. Also, they focus on the evaluation of hypotheses using randomization tests (i.e. simulations), rather than the standard distribution-based tests (z, t, F).

So, if you like statistics and sports, the book is a winner. And if, you like sports but maybe not statistics, then use this book to see the power of the two combined...and perhaps have your opinion changed!