Using games to teach math skills is old hat, but a Virginia high school’s decision to sanction after-school poker in a math teacher’s classroom has some people talking.
Last fall, in a story first reported by The Washington Post, George Mason High School in Fairfax, Va., approved a student poker club, sparking concerns from some anti-gambling groups.
At first, the school’s principal, Tyrone Byrd, was hesitant to allow the club. But after researching the game and talking to colleagues, Bryd told the Teacher PD Sourcebook, “It came down to whether or not I trusted the kids and teacher, and if I could find any academic validity to what they were doing. And the answer was yes. So I said, ‘Why not?’”
The principal also laid some strict ground rules: Students can’t use real money, an adult sponsor must be present, and the game’s educational purpose must be clear. Several times during each weekly meeting, one of the student co-founders quizzes members on the probability and statistics of the game, says Byrd.
The idea of playing poker in high school may be controversial, but, according to the Post, universities have offered poker classes for years as a way to teach reasoning and strategic thinking. Chapters of the Global Poker Strategic Thinking Society, formed at Harvard University in 2007, have opened at several prestigious universities.
Even so, gambling-awareness groups have raised concerns about the use of poker as a tool to teach teenagers, warning that it may lead to abuse and addiction. Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, says that he isnt categorically opposed to using poker to teach math concepts but wants to ensure that schools are well-educated about the risks.
A version of this article appeared in the April 04, 2011 edition of Teacher PD Sourcebook