Maths and…

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If you’ve visited the NRICH website in the last year or so, you’ll probably have noticed that we’re doing a lot more cross-curricular stuff lately. This began with stemNRICH, an effort to examine the M in STEM and provide good quality mathematical resources with a scientific and/or technological focus. Such was the success of stemNRICH at key stage 5 that it is now being rolled out into key stages 3 and 4.

In addition, we’ve had monthly themes on both art and sport recently. So I thought I’d blog a little bit about some of these cross-curricular themes, and the issues and opportunities they raise. Today I’m going to talk about sport.

I admit, when the decision was taken to publish maths and sport resources my heart sank a little. Although I love spending cold Saturdays in December standing on a terrace watching football, and will watch almost any televised sport that isn’t golf, I tend to keep the sporting part of my life very separate from the maths part of my life. When I was at school, there was virtually no overlap between the sporty kids and the maths geeks, and I was definitely one of the kids who was picked last for everything because I was too busy calculating square roots in my head to notice if a ball was travelling towards me. To me, there was a massive gulf between sport and maths, and until I was forced to think about it, I couldn’t see how that gulf could be overcome.

Luckily, I am part of a wider team with lots of vision and ideas. The Maths and Sport website is beginning to grow, and as we add to it, we are getting new ideas from each other’s work. I think my favourite of the problems I’ve been involved with creating is Charting Success. Teaching about graphs and data representations is always going to be easier if we use data that has some sort of an impact, and by choosing several different sports we hope the majority of students will be able to engage with at least one of the representations. It actually started out as a problem just about data representation and a chance conversation about where I was going to find suitable graphs to feature led to the idea of using sports graphs, and thus linking our theme on stats with the ongoing sport project. (Visit the NRICH site in October for lots more on stats.)

When teaching about handling data, I believe it is important to use real data and ask interesting questions. I also believe that if a theme such as sport is tacked on to a problem just to give it a context, kids will treat the problem with the same disdain that an adult would if presented with something artificially bolted on. I really hope that Charting Success has avoided these traps – the graphs and diagrams are ones that are genuinely used, so the maths is embedded within the sport rather than being an add-on, and I think enough people are interested in sport that there are interesting questions provoked by these representations.

I’m hoping to put together a follow-up problem early next term with other interesting representations used in sport. If you have any ideas about suitable graphs that are used in sporting contexts, leave a comment. And of course, feel free to comment if you want to agree or argue with anything I’ve said!

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