In western nations, there is a great deal of interest in improving standardized test scores compared to Asian students, but few schools want to do what Asian schools do most; teach to the test and teach by rote.

Instead, programs focus on increasing things like 'motivation' have become popular. And so we get a mashup of math and basketball. Should we call it mathketball?

A group of Copenhagen schools placed 756 1st through 5th graders in a six-week program that they found had a positive effect on their desire to learn more, provided them with an experience of increased self-determination and grew math confidence among youth. 

Credit: University of Copenhagen

The Basketball Mathematics program had kids collect numbers and perform calculations associated with various basketball exercises. An example could be counting how many times they could sink a basket from three meters away vs. at a one-meter distance, and subsequently adding up the numbers. Both the math and basketball elements could be adjusted to suit the children's levels, as well as adjusting for whether it was addition, multiplication or some other function that needed to be practiced, explains Linn Damsgaard, who is writing her PhD thesis on the connection between learning and physical activity at the University of Copenhagen's Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports.  

Of the 756 children from 40 different classes at Copenhagen area schools, about half of them had this Basketball Mathematics program during gym class - once a week for six weeks -   while the other half played basketball without mathematics.

They say the results demonstrate that children's motivation for math integrated with basketball is 16% higher com-pared to classroom math learning. Children also experienced a 14% increase in self-determination compared with classroom teaching, while Basketball Mathematics increases mastery by 6% compared versus classroom-based mathematics instruction. Furthermore, the study shows that Basketball Mathematics can maintain children's motivation for mathematics over a six-week period, while the motivation of the control group decreases significantly.

"It is widely acknowledged that youth motivation for schoolwork decreases as the school year progresses. Therefore, it is quite interesting that we don't see any decrease in motivation when kids take part in Basketball Mathematics. While we can't explain our results with certainty, it could be that Basketball Mathematics endows children with a sense of ownership of their calculations and helps them clarify and concretize abstract concepts, which in turn increases their motivation to learn mathematics through Basketball Mathematics," says PhD student Linn Damsgaard.