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Teaching Graphing with Basketball Finals

It’s almost March and those of us who are sports fanatics or live with a coach know what this means– college basketball finals! With all of the numbers spewing out of each stats book, it’s hard to ignore an authentic opportunity to bring in some real-world math. Whether you’ve already taught your graphing and statistics curriculum standards or not, this time of year provides a unique opportunity to get students graphing using real data.

With college basketball finals in mind, I’ve created some ways to combine celebrating this very popular time of year with graphing. In today’s post, I offer ways to collect data from the online team basketball statistics and then display the data with a variety of graphs. I’ve provided a detailed description of the activity guidelines and process below.

For this set of tasks, students will need access to college basketball statistics. The men’s statistics can be found at http://www.espn.com/mens-college-basketball/. The women’s statistics can be found on each team’s individual website. Students will need to gather regular season data for a specific team, compare the regular season data of two or more teams, and use the data from a specific conference to complete the activities below.

All of these graphs can be assigned to students individually or in small groups. The graphs could also be done together as a class. This works especially well if you are teaching your graphing standards at the same time. In terms of graph paper for a large group, I typically use the one-inch graph paper on a roll that you can find at math manipulative companies, such as EAI Education. I have also used the one-inch graph paper available on a large tear-off pad from Office Max/Office Depot. Tip: Regular 3″ by 3″ sticky notes work great on the one-inch grid paper because they line-up perfectly with the horizontal and vertical grid lines. If students will be graphing individually, 8.5″ x 11″ sheets of graph paper will work just fine.

A. Dot Plot: A dot plot, also known as a line plot, is used to graph numerical data along a horizontal number line. It uses exes or dots to illustrate data. Ideas for ways to use a dot plot with basketball statistics include:

  • Graph the field goals made (2-point shots) during the season for the top five scoring players of several teams in the same conference. Students can use a different color for each team so that they can analyze the graph later.
  • Graph the number of minutes each player on a team played in a final game or graph the number of games played for the regular season for each player.
  • Graph the number of wins each team in a specific conference had during the regular season.

B. Bar Graph: A bar graph is used to graph categorical data. It uses bars to illustrate data for each category. Ideas for ways to use a bar graph with basketball statistics include:

  • Graph the average number of points per game for each team in a conference. (This data can be found on the home page for each team using the website above. See an example here. The data is on the right side below the conference rankings)
  • Graph the number of conference wins (does not include games played outside of conference play) each team in a specific conference had during the regular season.
  • Graph the number of points scored by a specific team against five conference teams. (Because each team plays their conference teams twice, this is actually a double bar graph.) Students should use a key to denote game one and game two.

C. Stem-and-Leaf Plot: A stem-and-leaf plot is used to graph numerical data. It illustrates data by separating it by place value. Ideas for ways to use a stem-and-leaf plot with basketball statistics include:

  • Graph the number of three-point shots made for the top three three-point scorers on each team in a specific conference.
  • Graph the free-throw percentages for two teams during a specific regular season game.
  • Graph the average number of rebounds per game for all of the teams in a specific conference.

D. Frequency Table: A frequency table is used to show categorical data. It uses tally marks to illustrate data for each category. Ideas for ways to use a frequency table with basketball statistics include:

  • Graph the number of conference losses (does not include games played outside of conference play) each team in a specific conference had during the regular season.
  • Graph the number of steals five players had during the regular season.
  • Graph the number of free throws five players made during the regular season.

E. Scatterplot: A scatterplot shows the relationship between two sets of data. Corresponding x- and y-values are recorded as ordered pairs to illustrate data. Ideas for ways to use a scatterplot with basketball statistics include:

  • Graph the number of field goals (two-point shots) made versus the number of field goals attempted for the top five scoring players on a team for the regular season.
  • Graph the number of free-throws made versus the number of free-throws attempted for the top five scoring players on a team for the regular season.
  • Graph the number of three-point shots made versus the number of three-point shots attempted for the top five scoring players on a team for the regular season.

F. Pie Chart: A pie chart is used to show categorical data. It uses percentages (that total 100%) to illustrate the data for each category. Ideas for ways to use a pie chart with basketball statistics include:

  • Graph the percentage of wins and losses a specific team had during the regular season.
  • Graph the percentage of conference wins and losses (does not include games played outside of conference play) a specific team had during the regular season.
  • Graph the percentage of field goals (two-point shots) made versus field goals attempted by a specific team.
  • Graph the percentage of three-point shots made versus three-point shots attempted by a specific team.

After students have created their graphs, students should then record any observations they make from the data. This can be a great springboard for a discussion about the effectiveness of individual players or teams. It may also lead to a discussion about the teams who made it to the finals and what team characteristics helped them get there.

Graphing these different aspects of basketball statistics would make a great hallway display! The data can also be used in a gallery walk where students can review the data and record their observations on sticky notes for the class to review later.

However you decide to use the data, the upcoming basketball finals make for a great opportunity to bring in some real-world graphing opportunities!

Sound Off! How can use you use basketball statistics to create real-world graphing opportunities? Respond in the comments below.

Shametria Routt Banks

Shametria Routt Banks

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