This High School football coach plays “Would You Rather” Math, and so should you

Add “Would You Rather?” to your bookmarks. Phrasing math problems in terms of “Would You Rather” is simple and brilliant. I love this framework for three reasons:

1) It’s relatable. We’ve all wondered whether it’s more efficient to mow the lawn in concentric rectangles or in stripes. We’ve all run. We’ve all argued with other people.

2) It allows for immediate estimation. Students will immediately have a conjecture. As I’ve mentioned that Dan has mentioned before, that’s one of the best pound-for-pound ways of getting kids to learn math in new ways.

3) It hammers – I mean just crushes – CCSS Standard of Practice 3: Construct viable arguments and critique the arguments of others, which Steve Leinwald has called “the most important nine words in the common core”. *

So yeah, bookmark it, give it to your kids tomorrow. I’ll be sprinkling them throughout my curriculum maps very soon.


Speaking of a “Would You Rather” approach to math, I was watching a video on Grantland about a High School football coach in Little Rock, Arkansas who never punts and always onside kicks. While statheads have been clamoring for less punting for years, he (and the video produces) articulates the math quite clearly and attainable (a mathematical skill).

Would you rather go for it on 4th and 7 from your own five yard line (about a 50% success rate)….



punt and give the opponent the ball on the 45 yard line?


Here’s where it gets interesting though. By going for it on 4th down that close to his own goal line, the opponent would score 92% of the time. By punting to the 45 yard line, the opponent would score 77% of the time.


There you have it. Coach Kevin Kelly played “Would You Rather” Math and used some compound probabilities to determine that they’ll never punt. While there’s more to it (i.e. it’s not a singular event: once you get the first down, you have to get the next first down and so on), just imagine if you could get kids to think mathematically this way under the Friday Night Lights. Coach Kelly uses similar logic regarding always onside kicking.


Go check out the full video and full article if you like. Shoot, try to get your class to convince your schools’ football coach they should never punt. It probably won’t work but it’s worth a shot. Wouldn’t you rather give it a shot?

*Thanks to Chris Robinson for helping me track down the author of that quote.

Update 11/20/13: Really wonderful interview with Kelly on this weeks’ Slate: Hang Up and Listen podcast. You can also find lots of bunny-trails in their links section to further elucidate the topic of never punting in football.

Conditions, Preexisting Conditions, and Treatment

Every now and then you come to one of those all-stop, let’s-just-look-at-this-for-a-while documents. This from the Carnegie Foundation is one of those artifacts. It’s pretty lengthy, and there are lots of words. Still, let’s just look at it for a while, shall we? (You’ll probably need to open it up in another window or download it)

True, this is aimed at college professors, but mapping it onto K-12 is a near 1-t0-1 relationship.

Consider this an internal (now external) dialogue based on my commitment to spend some time swimming in the social and emotional aspect of math instruction. I had the privilege of wrestling with this document with some thoughtful math facilitators. Some teachers began mapping out some of the intervention strategies for their class. Others discussed how to bring it to their entire department, or even school.

I found the following strand particularly resonant:

Students believe they are capable of learning math –> 

Faculty emphasize effort and strategies rather than luck or lack of ability as explanations for success or failure.

I like how the document continues to unpack that critical element, trying to better diagnose the problem (or name the success if you’d prefer to be positive, which this document is). The far right Change Ideas (interventions) are sometimes non-specific (“Students complete growth mindset writing exercise”), but I’m hopeful with the continued rollout of Jo Boaler’s, there will be some more potential for mapping strategies.

Still, the intervention strategies are just dripping with goodness:

  • Students write about their worries before an exam.
  • Have routines for noticing attendance and participation.
  • Train faculty in how to reinforce that productive struggle and effort can produce deeper math understanding.

/thinks back my college math experience

//dies from laughter at the notion of any of my math professors thinking about growth mindset in any way, shape, or form

So, anyway, I like this piece a lot. However, I know I’m rather prone to apply technical solutions to challenges that are often adaptive in nature. Sometimes I treated and treat challenges in a whack-a-mole style when it’s more foundational. Still, I also like actionable next-steps.

So what about you? What do you find resonant? What intervention strategies will you or have you tried? What would a “growth mindset writing exercise” look like?


PS. Update on my previous social/emotional elements of instruction post. Huge thanks to the resources shared in the comments. This post from a now apparently defunct blog shared by Michelle and Max’s book shared by Kate were great next steps. 

I also received an incredible email from Benjamin that I’m still working through. Ben, I’m trying to figure out the best way to publish that incredibly reflective commentary.