Math, Mariners style

By ERIC STEVICK

Herald Writer

GRANITE FALLS — At first it would seem like a pretty good gig: the Mariners’ American League Championship Series game televised in the classroom — entertainment under the guise of education.

Yet when the Mariners scored the first run in their game with the New York Yankees Wednesday, there was barely a murmur in two classrooms at Monte Cristo Elementary School in Granite Falls.

Most of the students’ eyes were shifting back and forth between newspaper box scores and the two blue sheets of questions in front of them titled "Investigating and Analyzing Data," an academic exercise where sandlot dreams met mathematical number-crunching.

Fourth- and fifth-grade students scoured the Mariners’ and Yankees’ box scores along with other postseason statistics. They calculated individual and team batting averages and were asked to make predictions based on the statistics.

Their final conundrum: "Choose four players from the Mariners. Create a double bar graph that shows batting averages from both Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s statistics. Give your graph a title and also give titles for each axis of your graph. Include a key to show Tuesday’s vs. Wednesday’s information."

Austin Hoerner, a fifth-grader, has had plenty of practice calculating batting averages, including his own. Some averages he can do in his head, even when given a reporter’s pop quiz.

"It helps when you have played (organized baseball)," he said.

Teachers Debra Howell and Mike Schireman decided to capitalize on the students’ interest in the Mariners with the deep-seated belief that baseball with its myriad statistics can be a powerful tool in learning math.

"This particular group is really baseball savvy," Howell said.

"It is good for the visual learners who sometimes find math to be so abstract," Schireman said.

Meanwhile, Tim Granger, a fifth-grade teacher at Quil Ceda Elementary in the Marysville School District, said his students have completed different exercises using baseball and math.

"During the White Sox series, we really began to get to work," he said.

Students solved problems ranging from determining the velocity of a pitch to estimating the size of a fifth-grader’s strike zone. They also used estimation as a tool to calculate the size of Mariner superstar shortstop Alex Rodriguez’s strike zone.

On Wednesday, they were discovering the average number of pitches thrown to Mariner batters during an inning and calculating batting averages and the percentage of times the Yankees have won the World Series.

"The ability to watch the game gives our students an added sense of connection with the math that they are doing in the class," said Granger, who received a 1999 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching from the National Science Foundation and the White House.

Like Howell and Schireman, Granger believes baseball can be a powerful tool in preparing students for the tough state math exams that are part of a battery of tests known as the Washington Assessment of Student Learning.

"Seeing the ways that math is used in everyday life is the type of practice our students need in order to be successful on the WASL," Granger said. "The students are seeing that math does not stop at the classroom door but extends into their lives in every way."

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