Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) recently asked Jacob Gregory, a sixth-grade teacher at William McKinley School 39, about the intersection of basketball and math.
Gregory was named 2023 NBA Math Hoops Teacher of the Year after leading his school’s first Math Hoops Club. Under his mentorship, Jovana Sekulovski, a fifth-grade William McKinley School 39 student, took her math skills to New York City to participate in the NBA Math Hoops Global Championship June 21–24.
Using the skills developed by playing a board game that incorporates NBA and WNBA stats, Sekulovski was joined by members of Pacers Sports & Entertainment. The board game helps individuals learn fundamental math skills in a fun and engaging way.
Gregory, who has spent 17 years with IPS, discusses starting up the Math Hoops program at William McKinley, how he makes math fun for students, and what’s next for the NBA program.
Q – IPS recently received a bit of notoriety from Math Hoops. How did you get involved?
Math Hoops was presented to me as a math club, I honestly knew nothing about it and was very hesitant about participating. I was thinking “You have the wrong guy.” I don’t usually step outside and try new things, but my love for math and sports piqued my interest.
Q – How do you make math interesting?
It can be challenging to make math fun and getting away from the pencil and workbook routine really is a priority for me. It is a task finding games or alternative activities that are both relevant, engaging, and still rigorous but Math Hoops has provided me and my students the opportunity to actively learn, develop sportsmanship, sharpen math facts, and have fun doing it!
Q – You’ve sent one student to the NBA finals. What’s next?
I see Math Hoops at our school continues to flourish. We started with a very small group of 10 kids this year, with the generosity of the Pacers Sports and Entertainment group we were able to take a group of students into a suite for a Pacers game and a suite for a Fever game, we were able to visit Gainbridge Fieldhouse and play Math Hoops on the Pacers/Fever floor and had an end of the year celebration at our school provided by the Pacers and Fever. The opportunities we’ve been provided have fueled excitement for our Math Hoops club in the upcoming school year.
Q – Who were your sports heroes growing up?
I am a sports fan in general, I’m a huge New York Yankees fan. My dad was a Mickey Mantle fan as a kid, I grew up a Don Mattingly fan. I’ve always loved the Pacers as well and can often be seen in Pacers’ gear at school. I’ve lived in Indianapolis my whole life, so (former Pacer) Reggie Miller was obviously a favorite for a long time. Myles Turner is a current favorite because of his community involvement and his leadership abilities.
Q – What put you on the road to a career as a math teacher?
My career path took me toward math. When I was moved from a Title I teacher to a math teacher, I decided to take the opportunity and make the best of it. I went from having little to no curriculum to fully embracing and immersing myself in math. I never imagined myself as being a math teacher, I’ve just always believed anything worth doing, is worth doing at your best effort, I’m never content.