Women’s basketball uses game to teach math

Team hosts first Math Madness event

Mikayla Pucci ’21 combined her interests in math, teaching and basketball to help local seventh-graders appreciate the real-world application of mathematics.

The women’s basketball team hosted its first Math Madness competition during winter break, welcoming 185 seventh-grade students from Norton Middle School to watch the team face off against Pine Manor College and test their math knowledge. The outing included lunch—pizza in the Beard Fieldhouse—and a chance to talk with the team after the game.

Head Coach Melissa L. Hodgdon borrowed the idea for hosting a math-related field trip from another local college, and she tapped Pucci, a double major in math and education and a team co-captain, to organize a math assignment for the middle school students’ visit to the Haas Athletics Center.

The sophomore forward put together an eight-page workbook filled with math problems directly  related to the sport and the game the local students attended—from tracking players’ scores and calculating averages to solving geometry problems related to the dimensions of the basketball court. Along with the workbook, each student received a mechanical pencil from the Wheaton Women in STEM program.

“It was so much fun,” said Pucci, who hopes to teach high school math and coach basketball. “I love school, I like to learn, and I like planning things. I thought it was great.” But the assignment was a challenge, too. Pucci had not written lesson plans or curriculum before. She credited Associate Professor of Mathematics Rachelle DeCoste with guiding her through the process.

“Professor DeCoste was super helpful in looking over the workbook and giving me suggestions on how to make it clear, so there would be no huge questions from students on the day of the game,” Pucci said, adding that they also analyzed state mathematics standards for middle school to ensure the questions were appropriate for the age group.

Professor DeCoste said situating math in a real-world context helps to make the subject more relevant to students and can be inspiring. “I think giving students a fun experience with math beyond the classroom is valuable because it shows them that math isn’t just solving abstract equations with no relationship to the world,” she said.

The event also exemplifies an important part of the women’s basketball program at Wheaton—its focus on leadership and community service. The team regularly gets involved in service, including contributing to anti-bullying campaigns in local schools, working with organizations serving developmentally disabled youth, writing letters to patients at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and participating in Relay for Life.

“Community collaboration has always been a big part of our program. I believe by serving our community we grow as individuals and hopefully enhance the greater global community,” Coach Hodgdon said. “As a coach, I feel student athletes need to develop relationships with people in the community. It enhances them as people—to be better citizens, to be better people, and to be better athletes.”

Pucci said the experience built on the work she has already done to prepare for a career in teaching. Last spring, she completed 40 hours of observation that is part of the education major in Norton High School. “I was there for a week for the entire day, each day,” she said. “It was really cool. I was able to see all different levels of math instruction.”

The Norton Middle School students responded to the outing very positively. “Our students are excited to be here,” said Ron Goldstein, assistant principal of the middle school. “The workbook maps to the curriculum standards for seventh grade for the most part. Some of the questions are more on the eighth grade standard, which is great because it challenges the students a little bit.”

After the game (which Wheaton won 76 to 41), the team introduced themselves to the middle school students and took questions—How did Alexis Romer ’22 find her way from Florida to a position on the team as a freshman? How many points did Abby Hamilton ’19 score during the game? How do you calculate the area of the rim?

They got answers to all those questions from Coach Hodgdon and the team. Pucci walked the seventh graders through the formula for finding the area of a circle, with students scribbling notes in their workbook as she encouraged the students to share what they already knew about the problem. Later on, she reflected on the experience.

“I think there are a ton of parallels between teaching and coaching. Teaching and coaching are both about finding students’ strengths and improving on those and building off their confidence,” she said. “It’s also about finding where they struggle and offering others strategies for them to learn the material or improve their game.”

“As a coach, I was most proud seeing Mikayla’s passion for education in putting together the workbook and in how she interacted with the kids after the game,” Hodgdon said. “She is going be an amazing teacher; I am 100 percent confident of that.”