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Hitting a Home Run With Math During the World Series

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America needs more scientists and science-literate workers to maintain our global preeminence in science and engineering in the 21st century. That's where the jobs are now and will be, so we need to prepare our children to compete in an economy that prizes science literacy. To do that, we have to start early to engage our children in math and, while it may seem illogical, the World Series offers a perfect opportunity. Passion for anything begins with early exposure. Many World Series sluggers have wielded bats since age 3 or 4. Nearly all professional musicians began playing musical instruments at a young age, too. Parents all know to read bedtime stories to their kids to build an early foundation for literacy, but most parents do not make numbers a part of the daily home routine. Thus, our young students irreversibly lose crucial early chances to become cozy and familiar with numbers. And when they enter kindergarten, they do so with very weak footing in math. The need to overhaul our culture on this front is urgent. Despite the ever-growing job openings that require and reward math and science skills, the National Center for Education Statistics tells us more U.S. undergraduates major in recreation and leisure studies than in all physical sciences combined. This trend poses a serious threat to our quality of life: we don't know who will cure cancer, build a better cell tower, or create cheap solar energy, but it likely won't be a ski instructor. So, how do we create a pipeline of adults who love and excel at math? By putting math on the same footing as backyard batting practice, piano lessons or reading. That's why I created the nonprofit Bedtime Math, which sends out playful math problems daily to help parents make math second nature for their kids. Moreover, parents can work numbers into activities that kids already enjoy -- from baking (measuring ingredients) to shopping (pricing discounts) to planning a dinner party for six. When you think about it, it's not "out of left field" to make the World Series a great excuse to talk about math. You can start as the Series begins, watching games together and updating your numbers from news reports after each game. Here are some ideas:
  • The Infield. Talk about the geometry: What shape is it? How far apart are the bases? How far is the pitcher's mound from home plate? How does that compare to, say, the length of your house or apartment, or your child's bedroom?
  • The Teams. Which of the teams in this year's World Series won the most championships in the past? Which team has won most recently?
  • The Players. Which of the starting players has the most home runs for the season? Who has the most runs batted in? Who has the best batting average? Which pitcher has the best won-lost record?
  • The Excitement: For kids who are less fanatical about baseball: How many fans can you pack into a stadium? If every fan eats two hot dogs, how many does the stadium need to provide?
A lot of this information is available online, and kids can help find it as well. You don't have to be a great sports fan to participate; you just have to enjoy exploring numbers with your child. His or her enthusiasm will take it from there. This is just one of countless opportunities to sneak math into activities your child already enjoys. Instead of a compulsory subject they associate only with school drudgery, kids can instead discover math as a favorite form of leisure. Not only will this spark an early interest in math in a fun way, but you'll also have terrific shared experiences with your child. That's a home run in more ways than one. Laura Overdeck is the Founder of Bedtime Math (www.bedtimemath.org), a nonprofit organization that aims to spark children's love of math, by making nightly math as common as the bedtime story.