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Fantasies Are Good For Your Math Skills

Who says skeptics should not indulge themselves in fantasies? Stoic, rational, logical, critical, evidence-based, scientific are just a few of the adjectives that help define us. But in the context of skepticism, you seldom hear a skeptic embracing fantasy as a practical tool on our skeptical utility-belts. It’s time to make room for a new tool: fantasy sports.

Yes, fantasy sports is being utilized in classrooms, and is apparently playing a big role in helping students achieve higher math scores. According to a University of Mississippi research report presented back in September, math scores of middle school students increased by nearly 50% in areas of mathematics ranging from fractions to algebra. The report also reveals that math scores for both boys and girls have improved.

Reports of the impact that fantasy sports has had in the classroom is not all that new. For years, there have been numerous individual news stories reporting the anecdotes of teachers and students. But the University of Mississippi report appears to be the first research to collect the data on the relationship between fantasy football and math scores. Kim Beason, associate professor of park and recreation management at UM lead the examination of the data and described the results as “huge”.

The skeptic in me knows that any one positive study or data set does not qualify as an established fact. And with so much anecdotal evidence and testimonials associated with the reporting of these incidents, I try to be careful to separate the facts from the hype.

But the investigation into the phenomena is proceeding correctly, and that is an encouraging sign. The process began with observation, then moved on to experimentation, which led to positive results. That led research and systematic data collection, which verified the results. This is a classic example of the scientific method in action.

The next step is to conduct more research, construct better quality studies if possible, collect more data, and analyze more results. Another encouraging aspect to all of this is that the data is math, which makes it less subjective to biases, prejudices and other pesky human factors that need to be closely guarded against in other types of studies. It should be easy enough to figure out if the results are positive or negative. I am hopeful that more institutions will continue to study the scores. So far, I see no reason to not embrace this approach to learning.

I’ve been a regular fantasy football player since 1996. My math skills were typically my strongest skills throughout my primary education well before fantasy sports ever became the popularity it currently enjoys (an estimated 20 million people in the US participate in fantasy sports.) When I came across this news just a few days ago I stood up and cheered (in my mind, at least) and was genuinely pleased to read these findings. Without math skills, it is almost impossible for science skills to take root. And without science skills, it is very difficult to achieve skepticism skills. So anything that society can utilize to better educate students in mathematics should be used to its fullest advantages, and if one of the tools to achieving those results is steeped in fantasy, then more power to it.

Sports fans reading this might be familiar with the ESPN show “Outside The Lines”. Not too long ago, they presented a segment on this very subject which you can link to here.

And for you fantasy sports fans reading this, my team won 60-59 this weekend (my opponent and I have no players in tonight’s game, so our game is complete.) When Joseph Addai, running back for the Indianapolis Colts, threw that touchdown pass late in the game against the San Fransisco 49ers yesterday, it was just enough of a bonus score to put me over the top and on to victory.

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