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Play, Score, Learn! Incorporating Football into Fun with Integers

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Many agree that football is the All-American sport. Since its inception in the 1960s, the Super Bowl has evolved to become a true American tradition. On Super Bowl Sunday, families and friends gather to watch as two of the 32 teams from the National Football League dish it out for the national title and serious bragging rights. This year, it’s the San Francisco 49ers vs. the Kansas City Chiefs. Some tune in for the football, others for the commercials or half time show,  and still others for the whole event. Super Bowl fun should not be limited to Super Bowl Sunday, or the comforts of our living rooms. The Super Bowl can serve as a way for us educators to further connect and engage with our students in the classroom. 

Connecting Football to Rational Numbers

One way to celebrate the Super Bowl, and football in general in our classrooms, is through a number line and football activity that helps students visualize the connection between Football plays and rational numbers, through real-life applications. Using this type of activity, students will practice locating negative and positive integers on a number line, model the addition or subtraction of negative and positive integers and identify the absolute value of each play. 

Understanding Academic and Football Vocabularies 

To begin this activity, it is important to preview academic vocabulary. Since students will be asked to identify positive and negative integers, as well as absolute value, you should begin by reviewing or introducing these terms and modeling examples on a basic number line. 

Positive integers: describe numbers that are greater than 0.  

Negative integers: refer to numbers that are less than 0. 

Absolute value: a number’s non-negative value without regard to its sign. A number’s distance from 0. 

It is also important to review the following football terms prior to beginning the lesson, to ensure that students understand each prompt:

Endzone: A 10-yard long area at each end of the field. 

Note: it is important to explain to students that for the purpose of this activity, the 50-yard line will be replaced by 0. One team will be located in a “negative” space, thus the yards on the left side of the 0 yard line will all be considered negative integers. 

Offense: When the team’s objective is to score a touchdown. The team aims to move towards the opposite end zone. 

Defense: When the team’s objective is to defend their end zone and prevent the other team from reaching the end zone and scoring a touchdown. 

Down: A down occurs each time a team makes a playing decision. A down begins with the quarterback’s play decision and ends when the player with the football is tackled, if the ball  goes out of bounds, or the team scores.

Drive: A drive is a set of 4 plays. For a Drive to be successful, a team must travel a minimum of 10 yards towards the opposing end zone. If the Drive is successful, the team is awarded another 4 plays and is required to move forward another 10 yards. 

Tackle: When a defensive player successfully disarms an offensive player with the ball, preventing them from moving forward or keeping the player from completing a play. 

Punt: Kicking the ball towards the opposite end zone. 

Rush/Rushing: Running the ball during a play towards the opposite end zone. 

Touchdown: When the offense is able to make it through to the endzone within a drive or when a  defensive player recovers a ball in the opposing end zone, resulting in a score of 6 points. 

Materials Needed

Number Line Football Field Document. (Can be printed out and projected under docu-cam or can be projected on a large screen/smartTV/Promethean board.) 

2 colored pens/pencils (if using docu-cam)

2 colored dry-erase markers (if projecting) 

Physical or digital stopwatch/timer. 

Score-keeping chart (1 per student)

Online random number generator or the random number list provided.

Printable Templates

Procedure, Set Up and Rules
  1. Begin the lesson by reviewing vocabulary terms, both content terms as well as football terms.
  2. Divide the class into two groups. You can have students stay in their seats and divide the class into left and right side, or you can number students off and have them find new seats with their assigned groups. 
  3. Explain to the class that each side will be considered its own football team. You can allow each group to name their team. 
  4. Project the Number Line Football handout under a docu-cam or on a projector screen. Take a moment to explain to students that for the purpose of this activity, the 50 yard line has been replaced by the number 0. The right side of the field lives on the positive side of the number line, therefore those yards are considered positive integers. In contrast, the left side of the field lives on the negative side of the number line and its yards will be referred to as negative integers. This would be a great time to make the connection that positive integers are numbers greater than 0, and negative integers are numbers less than 0. 
  5. Remind students that, like American football, each team’s goal is to approach and cross the opposite end zone, within 4 plays. Each time a team crosses the end zone, the result is that team earns 6 points. 
  6. Introduce absolute value. Explain to students that regardless of where, in the number line, a play lands, the absolute value will refer to number of yards traveled by that team. It will be how we express the distance between the starting point and the end point of each play. 
  7. Model for students an example of a positive integer, a negative integer and absolute value on the Number Line Football field. While doing so, make sure to make references to the number line below the field. 
  8. Now it is time to start the game. Set your timer for 15 minutes, stopping  it after each play. You can designate a student to assume the role of time-keeping if you would like. 
  9. Students will begin on the 0 yard line. Ask each team to select a representative to come up and use rock, paper, scissors to decide which team will go first. 
  10. Using a random number generator online, or the random number list provided, provide each team with an integer per play.
    1. Note:  If using an online random number generator, make sure that you have set the parameters from 50 to -50.  
  11. Students must pay attention to the sign of each number, as it will dictate how many yards forward or back their team will move across the field. 
  12. Teams will have 4 plays per drive, to move a minimum of 10 yards towards the opposing end zone. 
  13. Using the score-keeping chart, have each student keep track of each play as well as the absolute value of each drive. Give students time to record before discussing the correct values whole group. 
  14. If teams are unable to move a total of 10 yards forward within 4 plays, or they score a touchdown prior to the end of their drive, it will be the other team’s turn to offend. 
    1. Note: For the purpose of this activity, we will not be mimicking/awarding points for field goal kicks after touchdowns. 
  15. Continue steps 9-12 until time is up. The team that earned the most touchdowns wins. 

Bring football fun into the classroom and watch how rational numbers become part of the fun of learning. 

Paula A. Hill

Paula A. Hill Education Media Content Coordinator | Certified Grades 5-9 Teacher

After spending my first-year teaching in a low-income urban school in Washington, DC, I returned to Florida to finish my Graduate Degree and seek further professional development. It was during my teaching there, that I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by inspiring educators and leaders who motivated, coached, and encouraged my growth and the growth of my students. It was there that I found a deep love for curriculum and curriculum development. I am now back in Washington, DC. where I’ve assumed an out-of-the-classroom role with PBS Learning Media as an Educational Media Content Coordinator. As I continue to learn and grow from others, I look forward to "paying-it forward" by helping my fellow educators and their students achieve success.

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