I wanted to post a project my students will be doing next week in class. As a first-year teacher, I’ll appreciate any feedback more experienced teachers want to give.

## The Situation

I teach mostly Algebra 1 and one period of Algebra Support. This is a class in which students were enrolled for extra support if they failed the AIMS test last year in 8th grade. They are enrolled in both Algebra 1 and Algebra Support – it’s not an alternative to the normal Algebra 1 class.

Our school doesn’t do any kind of block scheduling, so the students who are in Support have two math classes a day. The Support class was intended to be more than just a math-related study hall, but since this is the first year my school is doing these classes, we weren’t given much guidance as to the scope and structure of the classes. I spent much of the first semester ~~floundering~~ resorting to using the class period for review of the concepts covered in Algebra 1 that day, or in the last week or so. Since my Support class is the last period of the day, this was easy. I didn’t plan ahead very much, except that students were in the computer lab doing remedial assignments on Tuesdays and Thursdays and wrote reflective journal entries for me every couple of weeks or so.

I’ve decided I want to move this class toward a more project-based structure this semester. (My students will hate this, because they don’t know how to function when they’re given something more complicated than a worksheet full of math problems with straightforward answers, but that’s the point.) I started off by looking through the Problem-Based Curriculum Maps on the Emergent Math blog, and found an activity about the NFL passer rating. It includes a ridiculously long, complicated formula to calculate the statistic. This looks like fun, but I’m well aware that if I put that formula in front of my students, their brains would short-circuit and they’d be out for a week. (Kidding, kidding. We do have pretty significant confidence issues in that class, however, which isn’t surprising.)

Anyway, the NFL activity got me thinking about statistics in sports. I’m not a football fan, so I have a really hard time understanding football stats and how they are used and applied. I do, however, understand baseball stats. I grew up watching baseball and listening to the commentators talk about the game, players, and stats. I know, off the top of my head, how most of the stats are calculated and what they mean, so I thought it would be a lot easier for me to teach a lesson using baseball statistics. Most of my students are football fans, so we may have some struggles to overcome on that front. I also knew that I didn’t want a formula that was so complicated, as my students don’t really understand how to use and manipulate formulas effectively, and a lesson like this would require me to basically do the whole thing for them on the board.

I started looking around online to see if I could find a baseball project that would fit my needs, and quickly found a page suggesting an idea for a project in which students would be given a roster and a variety of statistics, and asked to determine how much each player should get paid. I liked this idea, but would have to create the materials myself.

This project doesn’t really address any algebra concepts, as there isn’t really any blatant math to be done. It does, however, ask students to evaluate information and make and defend decisions based on that information. I decided to use this project during the first week back to school, to work on their critical-thinking skills without including any of that terrifying math. I’m hoping it will be a good way to get brains re-engaged after the winter break.

## The Project

### Instruction Sheet

Major League Baseball has just terminated all long-term contracts, and every team in the league now has to re-negotiate the salaries for each player. The new salaries will be re-negotiated every year. You are the board members of your team, and your job is to decide how much each player on the team will be paid this year, based on their performance last year.

You have a roster of 15 players, their statistics from last year, and a team salary budget. The players include 10 position players and 5 pitchers. You have been given hitting statistics for the position players and pitching statistics for the pitchers. You will need to decide how to use these statistics in order to figure out how much you want to pay each of your players, keeping in mind the constraints of your budget.

The class may choose to agree on certain restrictions, such as a cap on salaries or a base salary. We will make this decision before everyone begins working, and all groups must follow the restrictions that the class agrees on.

You will turn in your list of players and their salaries, an explanation of how you made your decisions about those salaries, and all the work that you did to complete the project. You may type or hand-write your list and explanation. Your explanation must include a description of how you decided how much each player was worth and which statistics you found most useful in making your decisions.

Groups will be graded using the following rubric:

- Player Salaries: 15 points
- Player salaries reflect the player’s value to the team: 10 points
- Player salaries use the full budgeted amount: 5 points

- Group Participation: 15 points
- Each member of the group contributes meaningfully to the project: 10 points
- Completion of Group Participation Analysis: 5 points

- Written Explanation: 20 points
- Explains how the group decided the player salaries: 15 points
- Explains which statistics were used: 5 points

- TOTAL POINTS: 50

This project is due on Friday, January 10, at the beginning of class. The Group Participation Analysis will be completed in class on Friday.

[Instruction sheet available to download at end of post.]

### Project Logistics

Students are being assigned to groups of 3, and will be given a spreadsheet with the names and statistics of 15 players on the team and a total salary budget for those players. (I took the actual total salaries for each team and divided it in half to make the numbers a little closer to the actual amounts.) They are also being given a glossary of baseball terms relevant to this project, which is included on the last page of the Excel file [linked below].

As the instruction sheet says, I want the students to work together to decide how to spend their budget. They will turn in a list of players and their salaries, as well as an explanation of how they decided how much each player will be paid. I tried to set up my grading system so that the written explanation (and group participation) is more important than the actual answers they give me for salary amounts.

I’m emphasizing group participation for a couple of reasons. First, this class has a really bad combination of students who don’t work well together. They either don’t get along or get along too well (and will spend the whole time talking instead of working).

## Ideas for Raising/Lowering the Level of the Project

I don’t expect to have any need for raising the level of this project (I’m going to consider it a huge success if they just do what I’ve assigned) but I did have a couple of thoughts.

Leave out some of the statistics (batting average, ERA, on-base percentage, etc.) and have the students calculate those themselves given the raw data (number of at-bats and hits, earned runs and innings pitched…). I chose not to do this for this project because I didn’t want to give students hints as to which stats might be best for evaluating the worth of each player.

Have students find the statistics themselves online. Honestly, they’re easy to find – this wouldn’t be too much of a challenge.

The level of the project could be easily lowered by adjusting the statistics included in the spreadsheet. I included a lot of stats here – a lot more than my students should need. Part of my expectation is that I want them to evaluate the usefulness of the stats and decide which ones are more important than others. Younger students may get overwhelmed by the amount of data I’m providing.

Similar projects could also be created for other sports, of course. As I said, I believe my students tend to watch football, not baseball, so I may re-do this project later in the year using football stats instead.

## Resources and Download Files

Baseball Statistics Project – Instructions Sheet

I used the following websites for the statistical and salary information:

Baseball-Reference.com – statistical information for all teams and players. Can copy CSV data into an Excel file easily.

ESPN – Arizona Diamondbacks Salary Information – This page lists the salary information for the D-backs, but the right side of the page also lists salary information for every team in the league. As I mentioned above, I divided these numbers in half for the project.

Matt OwenThis sounds really cool! I like that they have a clear purpose in mind for using the stats. I wonder if having them do a presentation would be good too, or just a waste of time? I always struggle with that. Like I think they’ll work harder on it if they have to share with everyone, but it just takes so much time. What do you think?

melomaniaPost authorI don’t know. I wasn’t going to (as you can see) but that may be something to consider for the future. I’m not going to worry about it for this week but I’ll think about it if I decide to re-do the project later.

mrdardyOne interesting wrinkle to add on to this would be to have them look not only at one-year stats, but maybe three-year stats to make decisions about trends. As a baseball geek myself, I’d be tempted to factor in age, etc. but that would be asking an awful lot and maybe the kids would have to drink some saber metric kool-aid at a certain point.

I have a student population that is largely international and when I have tried to incorporate some baseball – like related rates problems in Calculus – I have had to answer questions as simple as ‘Where is first base?’