Be a Mathematics Coach to Your Children (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this blog, I talked about the role games play in exciting children about math. In his NYT article, Professor Ellenberg states. “The new games are difficult, but also, for many kids, kind of addictive. Which means they also teach sitzfleisch, the ability to focus on a complicated skill for the length of time it takes to master it. Math needs that. (Baseball does, too.) It fits with the research of the psychologist Carol Dweck, which suggests that mentors should emphasize effort over native ability. We can’t really teach kids to do things; we can only teach them to practice things. Every one of these games shows kids mathematical ideas in a spirit of play, which is a big and often hidden part of the true spirit of math.”

In my book “Sandlot Stats: Learning Statistics with Baseball”, I do exactly what Professor Ellenberg preaches. My book focuses on high school and college students learning statistics through games. The game I use to coach my students to understand the subject of statistics is also baseball. But there is no reason why adults can’t also use my book to explore the important world of statistics through the game of baseball.

In Part 1, I talked about the board game All-Star Baseball which introduced me, as a child, to the fun and excitement mathematics offers. As I explained in Part 1 the game consists of disks whose sectors simulate a player’s real-life statistics. The areas of the sectors represent the probabilities of that player hitting a single, double, triple, home run, getting a BB, getting HBP, hitting a SF, or making an out.

So how do I use the All-Star Baseball game in my book? In the first chapter the students are instructed to pick one pair of players from a list I give them (of course they can choose their own pair). Each pair contains one player in the Hall of fame (HOF) and one player that is a future candidate. They will compare their two players, using what they learn in statistics, throughout the course. One of the methods used for comparison in the book is to have each student create an All-Star baseball disk for each of their chosen players. Fortunately, there is free software on the internet that allows a student to create a disk after they calculate the needed probabilities. For example, a student can make a free spinner on this website:

Once the disks are made the student will play a 9-inning game between their two players. Each player will occupy the nine positions in the batting order for their team. The internet software supplies the spinner and off they go. At the end of the course, each student will present a PowerPoint Presentation on whether the HOF candidate should or should not be admitted to the HOF. The class will act as a jury and make a decision on whether they agree or disagree with the student’s argument.

Professor Ellenberg ends his NYT article with these statements about coaching math. “There are many things we’d like to coach our kids to do. And we can’t help playing favorites to some extent. I’ll admit, I’d rather C. J. aimed to be a mathematician than a shortstop. I tried to open his eyes to some more realistic careers that could still satisfy his hunger for the major leagues. “You know,” I told him, “you really like math, and all the teams now have people who work for them analyzing the players’ statistics. You’d probably enjoy that! At this suggestion he became agreeably eager. “Daddy, that’s a really good idea,” he said. “Because almost all major league players have to retire by the time they’re 40 — so then I could get a job analyzing the statistics!”

If you have an interesting story about coaching your child in mathematics through games, please share it with us.

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