Once reserved for fun, diversions become teaching tools
In this class, fantasy football leads to real learning
Playing video games or listening to headphones in class might have earned a student a trip to the principal’s office in years past.
Now, things once thought of as toys or distractions are considered educational tools.
Nintendo Wiimotes, the motion-sensitive remote accompanying the Nintendo Wii, can convert almost any space that can have images projected onto it into an interactive whiteboard.
Math teachers at Bookcliff Middle School are using fantasy football to teach their students statistics.
And students as young as kindergartners who struggle with reading could be sent home with iPod Shuffles to assist in reading exercises.
When there’s a free day at the mall on the line, the inner football fanatic and statistician comes out in force in each of Ron Elliott’s eighth-grade students.
Math students in Elliott’s classes at Bookcliff Middle School run statistics every Wednesday for their fantasy football teams, an armchair sport usually reserved for gridiron diehards.
Teams consist of a quarterback, two running backs and two wide receivers, Elliot said. The football players rack up points based on yards earned and touchdowns thrown, and lose points for fumbles and interceptions.
Elliott’s students take their players’ game statistics to determine how many points they earned for the week, he said.
“Almost any kind of math concept you can imagine works here,” Elliott said.
Madison Higgins, one of Elliott’s students, has an undefeated record midway through the football season, but her quarterback, Dallas Cowboy Tony Romo, is out with a broken pinkie.
“What a wimp,” Higgins said. “The guy from Mesa State cut off his pinkie, and this guy can’t play with a broken one?”
His students love the game, Elliott said, but movie passes and gift cards to Mesa Mall stores await the team that survives the playoffs at the end of year.
The prizes are enough to entice even pigskin novices.
Elliott said he’s conducted fantasy football leagues in his classes for 16 years, and he’s passing the concept on to other math teachers around the district.
“Technology is all about finding something useful and putting it in the right context,” said Mitch Hamilton, a Mesa State College student who is student-teaching math with District 51.
Hamilton gave a demonstration to District 51 teachers last year on how to convert the Wiimote, a computer and a projector into an interactive whiteboard.
A teacher at East Middle School adopted the Wiimote into his classroom, Hamilton said.
Instructions have been circulating the Internet via a video from Johnny Chung Lee, a human-computer interaction professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania.
A professionally manufactured interactive whiteboard can cost thousands of dollars, while a Wiimote costs about $40.
The process requires constructing an infrared pen, which can be tricky, Hamilton said, but the software that imitates interactive whiteboard technology is free.
The technology is infinitely usable with applications such as drawing and note-
taking, Hamilton said.
District 51 will pilot a reading program at three elementary schools that will help struggling kindergartners.
Students will be sent home with iPod Shuffles loaded with their teachers doing “book talk” voice-overs, said Devonee Grams, instructional technology specialist for the district.
The teachers will read along with the student’s assigned reading, tell them when to turn the page and explain what the book is about, Grams said.
“The goal is to have all kindergartners at level by the end of the year so they aren’t struggling going into first grade,” Grams said.
Five classrooms in three elementary schools — Fruitvale, Clifton and Pear Park — will pilot the program for the year, which should launch before Christmas break, she said.
The extra reading time will amount to about 20 minutes of instruction each night, Grams said.
At the end of the year, Grams said the district will assess how successful the program was to determine whether to expand it to other schools.