Growing up in one of Los Angeles’ lower income neighborhoods, Khalil Fuller saw students around him quickly lose interest in education, swapping high school in for a life of dealing drugs. Days were spent on the basketball court rather than in the classroom, and when Fuller made the choice to tutor teens in math, he knew he needed to find a way to re-engage students with learning.
“I didn’t have the tools at my disposal to make math fun, interesting and engaging,” Fuller says.
So, he incentivized the students, telling them they could go outside and shoot hoops if they finished their work early.
At the same time, he started swapping up scenarios. Instead of starting math equations with “Sally went to the store,” he would say “Kobe Bryant took X number of shots.” The students slowly started working through Algebra 1 without as much kicking and screaming. Making math feel like a basketball game was actually producing better results.
Fuller later traveled to Rhode Island to attend Brown University. While there, he met Bill Daugherty, who previously served as both the former senior vice president of business development for the National Basketball Association, as well as the managing director of the NBA Consumer Products Division.
Daugherty also realized how disengaged students were with math, and when the duo bumped into Tim Scheidt and Jim Fina—both of whom had written textbooks and had been tinkering with a math board game—an idea sparked.
NBA Math Hoops was born.
Through NBA Math Hoops, students use real-world NBA and WNBA player data to compete against their classmates in timed, simulated basketball games. Teams race against a shot clock to see who can be the first to accurately complete a math problem. Once they do, they get the chance to take a shot with a member of their team, complete with players’ actual shooting percentages.
The gameplay and post-game activities are primarily focused on algebra and align with Common Core State Standards. Classrooms can receive a kit comprised of eight NBA Math Hoops games, which are played two versus two, meaning up to 32 students can play at one time.
The NBA is working in partnership with the team, as well as Hasbro, who created 30 handmade prototypes for the startup’s first seven pilot schools in 2010. Yet, fast forward two years and NBA Math Hoops is now being used in 350 schools across the country. Fuller calls this phase “the national pilot,” as they continue to look in depth at how students are using the game.
Since launching NBA Math Hoops, Fuller has won $50,000 from MassChallenge and been named one the youngest Echoing Green Black Male Achievement Fellows at only 19 years old. He has also taken a leave of absence from Brown to focus on NBA Math Hoops full-time.
Moving forward, the goal is to scale the distribution of the board game and grow tenfold in 2013—reaching over 100,000 students. To do that, Fuller says they hope to start partnering with organizations like Teach for America, who already has a strong relationship with the NBA. The team most recently closed a partnership with after school program LA’s Best, bringing them one step closer to that goal.
Fuller also admits, “We plan to leverage digital platforms to scale our impact in the coming years,” and all for one goal: “to create as many math champions as possible.”
To see NBA Math Hoops in action, check out the photos below.