Posted Jan 14, 2014

At a recent Cleveland Cavaliers game, we were able to catch up with Jim Harris, a founding chapter leader in the NBA Math Hoops Cleveland Chapter Initiative. Jim currently serves as Associate Head of School at Breakthrough Schools’ Citizens Leadership Academy, an expeditionary learning middle school in the city of Cleveland. He created an NBA Math Hoops chapter as an entirely new program at his school, providing him and his staff with a new and engaging way to interact with students in the classroom. In our interview, Jim discussed the process of setting up the program and some of the surprises that he encountered along the way.

How did you ensure that the season would be successful from the beginning?

“Well, I learned math! I was probably the worst math person in the building, and now I’m teaching math to a bunch of sixth and seventh graders. I also learned the game very well during the first night that we were all together [the Cleveland Tipoff Clinic] – it was fun! The teachers got really competitive in the room. Then all I had to do was sell it to the kids.

I didn’t tell them that we were going to the [Cavs] game. I told them that it was a board game about basketball, and they immediately got into it. They were all very competitive from the beginning. It was pretty cool.”

Describe some of your observations of the students. Any particular challenges?

“At the beginning, a challenge was having them be quiet so we could teach them the game. They wanted to just come in and do whatever they wanted. For the first class we did the assessment, and then I had them pick teams before I brought the game out. Then we brought the game out and talked them through it, but we didn’t try to teach them the game all at once. We let them fool around with it and then by the third class, they really got into it. We let them set it up and take responsibility for a couple things.

They kept the same teams for the entire time, and the best teams kept the same [NBA and WNBA] players from the beginning. They would go into each game knowing who their players were and they would check the stats. The decisions were all based on stats.”

Did you make any adjustments throughout the course of the season?

“We had teammates play each other at a certain point to switch things up a little bit. Certain teams got dominant, and there was one team that was still undefeated. They had their set team of five players who had the highest stats. They knew how to manipulate the game, so they were really good. We had to mix it up a little bit.”

How did you wrap up the first half? What are you going to do differently in the second half of the year?

“We gave them the end-of-year test, but they didn’t want it to end. We gave out the [Cavs] tickets and they were really excited and surprised by that! They were really into it. We are going to continue in the second half of the year with an expanded group.

One change is that we are going to assign teams. Maybe pair girl/boy, girl/boy, or people who may not be friends. All the buddies signed up together, so we’re going to work for more diversity in the way we group the kids.”

Can you talk about some other surprises for you from your first experience with Math Hoops?

“The competitiveness carried on outside of the class – down the hallways, in lunch, in the morning. I played a few of them and they beat me, so we had bets about me shaving my head if I lost. We tied that game.

The girls got into it too, and more girls want to play now. A few of the eighth grade girls were in there, and it’s not intimidating for them. It’s not math and basketball on the court – it’s more intellectual. They like beating the boys!”

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