Math game adds up to win

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Thirty students in grades 4-8 stepped up to the plate a week ago at the PNC Park Hall of Fame Club, calculators in hand.

They were competing in a World Series game for Western Pennsylvania students who participated in the Fantasy Baseball Integrated Math Program.

The program, owned by Action Math Group, Ltd., has been used by a million students nationally. The program teaches math topics such as fractions, decimal and percent equivalence, multiple representations of data, measurement and geometry, statistics and data analysis, proportional reasoning, number sense, probability and graphing.

"The Fantasy Baseball Math Program has been operating in San Diego County Schools in California for over 20 years. I was a mentor to the author of the program who was a math teacher of middle school kids here in San Diego County," Gary Hess, president and CEO of Action Math Group Ltd., said in an email. "Three years ago, we put together a group of investors to purchase the intellectual rights to the program and revise it to meet current educational standards in math across the country, namely the Common Core Standards which have been adopted by 49 states. We brought the new revision out into the market countrywide in 2011."

Pittsburgh Pirates Charities, supported by Pirates general manager Neal Huntington and his wife, Becca, introduced the Fantasy Baseball math program in '11, with four classrooms participating. The program has expanded this year to 13 Boys & Girls clubs and seven classrooms, with a total of 418 students participating. The United Way of Allegheny County and the Pennsylvania Department of Education also supported the program through funding.

"An important part of Pirates Charities' mission is to support youth programs focused on health, fitness and education," said Jacqueline Hunter, development specialist for the Pirates. "The Fantasy Baseball Math Program was a great way to expand Pirates Charities educational programming; the program has a clear connection to baseball, but it also has proven academic outcomes for the kids who participate."

In the Fantasy Baseball program, students receive fictional baseball cards and analyze the players' statistics to draft and trade while building their own teams. A "Player Wheel," a geometric representation of the player's strengths and weaknesses, is created and used to play against other students' teams. A regular-season schedule is set for the class, usually ending with a World Series game to decide the classroom champion.

"It actually knocked my socks off," said Dr. Terri Henderson, the vice president of education and workforce development for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania. "All higher order math -- probability, statistics -- is taught through baseball."

A report from Furman Education Resources proves that the Fantasy Baseball program hits a home run. Students improved on their math skills anywhere from 6 percent to 63 percent. Across all participants, the largest growth was in algebra (33 percent).

Starting in February, students throughout Western Pennsylvania began playing each other in the simulated games. The winners in each club or class, as of May 4, got to play at the World Series game.

The "Homestead Grays Dominators" of the LaRosa Boys & Girls Club were crowned the Pittsburgh regional Fantasy Baseball World Series champions. The two students , Sirzyon Edwords-Cox and Josh Gilmore, won a Pedro Alvarez autographed baseball, along with tickets to a Pirates-Minnesota Twins game Tuesday night. The students will be recognized in a pregame ceremony. One will throw out the first pitch, the other will catch it.

"This has been a great program, and it is definitely one that we will continue to support," Hunter said. "There has been a lot of interest from different schools and organizations in being a part of the program, and Pirates Charities will work to make Fantasy Baseball available to as many children as we can in the future."

"The hope for the program is to have it in all 30 Major League Baseball cities as well as all the minor league towns across the country, and then host a World Series of Fantasy Baseball Math, perhaps at the site of an All-Star Game with the champions of each venue competing for the prize. How great would that be!" Hess said. "We are hoping to put math on the same visible level as reading and spelling with a national focus."

pirates

Alexa Bakalarski: abakalarski@post-gazette.com or (412) 263- 1889. First Published June 16, 2012 12:00 AM


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