For Caiden Dunlap, NBA Math Hoops is a literal a game-changer.
The 11-year-old wraps his arms around the colorful game board and flashes a dimpled smile. “I love math,” he says. He is sitting in the YMCA Youth Center in Birmingham, Alabama, where he attends the Afterschool Academy. He’s always enjoyed math, but his learning accelerated after he started playing the math game. When he found out he was headed to Detroit, Michigan, to participate in the National NBA Math Hoops Tournament, he gained a whole new respect for the science.
NBA Math Hoops is a fast-paced basketball board game, curriculum and community program that allows students to learn fundamental math skills through direct engagement with statistics of NBA and WNBA players. The curriculum was developed by the nonprofit Learn Fresh in association with NBA Cares, and is designed to give students an appreciation and understanding of math so they can become passionate, self-directed learners.The Birmingham YMCA Youth Center was able to participate in NBA Math Hoops through a grant from the National Basketball Players Association, one of the supporting entities that bring the game to afterschool programs throughout the country.
Protective Life employee Ed Caldwell sits on the board of directors for the YMCA and says the program makes learning math fun for the kids. “When we are able to engage our students in learning opportunities where they can connect to something they love, they don’t even realize they are learning.”
The game consists of a colorful, two-sided game board, a scoreboard, player stat cards, and shot planner. Players are grouped into pairs of “co-coaches,” who work together against another two-member team. The 16-week season begins with a preseason of curriculum prep, followed by a draft of NBA and WNBA players. Games start by week four. Moves are based on teams solving mathematical problems and choosing players based on understanding their stats. The game becomes more difficult as the season progresses, culminating in the championship playoff.
Learn Fresh co-founder and CEO Nick Monzi says the success of the game is in its design. “For a lot of kids, math is a dull subject. But adding the NBA component makes it engaging and competitive for them. And at the same time, it gives them the opportunity to learn in a collaborative way.”
About 30,000 fourth through seventh graders participated in the community program throughout the school year but only 1,400 qualified for one of the 20 national competition slots. Caiden qualified by hitting specific benchmarks like playing at least 25 games, completing 10 curriculum pieces, and participating in regional competitions. Learn Fresh selected which qualifying students were invited to the national event.
While in Detroit playing for the national event, participants will also tour the Henry Ford Museum, the University of Michigan, the Little Caesars Arena, and meet members of the Detroit Pistons.
Jonathan Wright, YMCA Youth Counselor, and NBA Math Hoops Coach, says a lot of kids who played the game improved their math skills, but Caiden was the most determined.
“After the first Math Hoops tournament Caiden said he wanted to go to nationals,” Jonathan says. “And now he’s the only student from Alabama going to Detroit. We’re really proud of him.”