Teachers using football to decipher math
Stephanie Stefanik’s fifth graders at Mays Chapel Elementary School had just learned the concept of rational numbers, and she was working on her next lesson plan — how to compare the numbers and order them on a number line — when she had an idea.
The 28 students in her class in Baltimore County are Ravens fans and had been following the team’s electric, franchiserecord 14-win season. Why not use a football example to teach?
“During the Ravens first drive against the Browns, Mark Ingram ran the ball on one play, Lamar Jackson ran the ball on another play, and Gus Edwards ran the ball on the third play,” the math problem read. “The yards are shown below. Mark Ingram: 6.5 yards. Lamar Jackson: 5.5 yards. Gus Edwards: -3.5 yards.
“Who had the largest gain? Who lost yardage? Plot the yards on a number line. Create an inequality sentence listing the yards from greatest to least.”
The Mays Chapel class loved the realworld lesson — one of many ways teachers in the Baltimore area have deployed the Super Bowl-favorite hometown team as a learning device this school year to inspire their students to learn math, writing and other skills.
“They latched on really quickly,” Stefanik said in an interview Thursday. “They were really excited about it.”
Stefanik tagged Jackson, Ingram and Edwards in a tweet about the math lesson, prompting a jokingly indignant reply from “Gus the Bus.”
“Love it !” Edwards tweeted. “Lol why I gotta lose yards tho”
Stefanik promised Edwards he would gain yards in the class’s next “warm up” problem.
If the students were excited at the chance to become amateur football analysts in math class, Stefanik said, it was nothing compared with their hysteria when the teacher showed them the Ravens players’ tweets in response to the lesson. Edwards’ tweet was retweeted nearly 700 times and received nearly 9,000 likes.
“They were like, ‘Oh, my God! We’re famous! Are they going to come here?’” said Stefanik, 36, a Rosedale native. “It was really cool the players were reacting to them. … This team does a really good job with that, bringing the community in.”
Ravens guard Bradley Bozeman said seeing the team being used to teach children has been a reminder of how large of a platform the players have.
“It’s so much more than football,” Bozeman said. “It goes beyond really anything we can imagine, and for kids and for even older people, no matter what it is, we impact a lot of people. So we’ve got to realize what kind of platform we have, and just how amazing that is, and to use it for good.”
The team has been collecting good-luck letters from fans and taping them up in the Under Armour Performance Center practice facility in Owings Mills for players and coaches to see during playoff preparations.
The good-luck note program has been used as a learning device in several classrooms, said Laura Humphreys, who oversees it as the Ravens’ senior manager of fan development and activation.
The younger students tend to stick to a single standard message, practicing their handwriting, spelling and grammar, she said, while the older ones often write longer messages, incorporating the team’s unofficial mantra, “BIG TRUSS,” and sending encouragement to their favorite players.
“The response has been overwhelming, as you can probably imagine,” Humphreys said. “It’s incredible. You don’t typically think of sports fandom being used in an educational way. To see how creative these teachers have gotten [and] to put an educational twist on it is awesome. … Engaging kids in the classroom in that way is pretty special.”
Jackson, who has earned praise from fans for his humility and work ethic in addition to his generational talent on the field, has also been the subject of a “Virtue of the Week” project in Stefanik’s class, which teaches students what they might learn from the quarterback about virtues such as enthusiasm, loyalty and tact.
For enthusiasm, they pledged to “look forward to going to class like he enjoys playing every game.” For loyalty, they noted Jackson “staying true to himself and his belief he is a QB not just a RB.” For tact, they watched the quarterback’s postgame news conference after a Week 14 win against the Buffalo Bills: “Told truth in kind way about his performance, he even complimented the Bills defense.”
“Before you speak ask yourself…” Stefanik wrote on one of the slides, “Would Lamar Jackson say it?”