What Sports Betting May Have To Tell Us About Education

11 Jun

superbruI have become quite a fan of sports betting. Without the money, of course! I’m way too poor a gambler to risk my shirt! The site I use is Superbru, and the idea is that you make sports predictions and get points for accuracy based on whether you predicted the result correctly, and whether you predicted the correct score. Your points are not based on the absolute accuracy of your prediction, but rather on how well you did against others in your pool.You can form public or private clubs and compete against friends or colleagues for kudos! All good fun!

Within each club you can compete in tournaments, which might run for a single sporting event, or for a season, such as the English Premier League soccer. At the end of the current soccer season I was sitting in second position in my club, and the chap in first position invited myself and the chappie in third round for a drink to watch the final games and see who would win the league. By the end of the evening I had slipped down into third place and our gracious host remained unchallenged in first position! While this was all very sociable, I believe that it also has a message we can draw on for our classrooms. I’m not suggesting we introduce our students to the world of sports betting! That might represent, after all, a bit of a slippery slope. But I do think that the main mechanics of this kind of site have a great deal to teach us as teachers.

I’m not suggesting that we predict sports results on a regular basis, although that could form the basis of any number of lessons. I believe that many of the mechanisms used in sports betting websites like Superbru, would have traction in the classroom.

The first mechanism is the idea of the club. The value of team sports lies very much in what they teach us about collaboration and esprit de corps! When the top order batsmen are back in the hut, it is often down to the lower order to save the day, and the success of the team often rests on the performance of its weakest individual. How that individual is mentored and supported by the team is what makes a team a team! Clubs operate very much in the same spirit. Students are frequently organised in age cohorts, in houses which cut across age cohorts, and in form classes. A student thus might have multiple identities across a school week. During the swimming gala or inter-house debates, she might support her house, at other times she might feel closest to her form class, or even her entire grade. If she participates in extra-murals, her identity might be formed by being a member of the choir, or the music department. Or she may see herself as a History student, or a Spanish student.

What is often missing in these associations, though, is any real sense of support for the weak, which is common in sport. In our classrooms, the end result is usually a report card for each individual, with a list of grades achieved by that student. Students know that ultimately this is what matters as their grades give them points for University entrance, and prizes and kudos within the school. What is missing is the importance placed on achievements at a personal level. Sport often hinges on these moments: a personal best by a player that swings a match! In sports betting too, the battles are often not for top spot but between friends for a minor position or even just to get one up on someone you know in the pool. The friendly banter and obsessive interest that can be aroused by these rivalries is all part of what makes for a successful club environment. “I don’t mind where I come, as long as I can beat you!” It sounds daft, but sociable rivalry, sociable competitiveness is something we could perhaps explore in our classrooms to some benefit.

On Surperbru you can belong to multiple clubs, and be ranked differently within different clubs, much as any student carries multiple identities across the school. I find it fascinating to see how my performances on Superbru compare in different clubs. Amongst Spurs supporters I was in the top 4% for the recent season, I was third in my regular club, and top in another. In another tournament I am currently in twentieth position out of twenty-one – lest you think I am a whizz at this!

Within a classroom it is common to form groups at different times for different activities, and for the teacher to mix up the groups from time to time so that students learn to co-operate and collaborate with a range of different people. I would argue, though, that the greatest benefit can come from a semi-permanent grouping which brings together students who might normally not share the same interests or affiliations and ensures that students learn to work together with people over a longer period of time than the single task.

In my computer skills classes I divide each class up into Mentor Groups which have the longevity of a year. These groups are given the names of women who have shaped the history of computing such as Ada Lovelace or Radia Perlman and are encouraged to support and help each other with individual assignments as well as group tasks. I hope that by creating these more permanent sub-groups within my classes, I will provide a way of encouraging ongoing mentorship and support.

predThe second mechanism on sports betting sites which I believe would be useful in the classroom is the mechanism of Prediction. The content of much of what we teach centres around facts and certainties. We tend to forget how central prediction is to the thinking process. All knowledge is tentative and provisional, and a pedagogy that focuses on prediction is one which foregrounds thinking rather than content. It makes no sense to talk of predicting what the capital of Sweden is, but a great deal of sense to speak of predicting what would happen if you added water to phosphorus. As an English teacher I often use prediction when studying a literary text. What should, or what will a character do next? Questions about what would you do, what do you think a character will do addresses core concerns around characterization in a novel or play and opens up discussion around multiple points of view. If they do this, what do think will happen? These are powerful questions, and it seems to me that the sports prediction metaphor acts as a useful model for organising prediction in the classroom.

What do I mean?

Many teachers use polls, and these can be used for prediction. You can also use Google forms to set up quick questions. What is good about using Google forms is that it generates a spreadsheet of responses, and if you use Flubaroo it will self-assess the responses. You can then use the email address to sort responses over multiple rounds of predictive questions and a total can be generated, giving a prediction leaderboard much as you would find on Superbru. If this is a bit too much work, you can use a chart in the classroom which can be updated manually either on an individual or a “club” basis. Either everyone who gets it right gets a point added to their chart, or just the group with the highest accuracy!

Adding a dimension of social competition to the discussion around prediction, I believe, opens up all sorts of opportunities as it gives a weight and importance to prediction.




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