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Boyne City elementary teacher uses MSU women's basketball in math lesson

March 28, 2022
Boyne City Elementary school teacher Erin Mastin uses Nia Clouden and Michigan State to teach the class.
Boyne City Elementary school teacher Erin Mastin uses Nia Clouden and Michigan State to teach the class. —
Photo by Courtesy Photo | The State News

More often than not, the teachers that students remember from grade school are the ones who went above and beyond. The average person spends about 13 to 17 years in a classroom, so most students have at least one story of a particularly wonderful, or particularly awful, teacher from their time in the education system.

Boyne City Elementary School math and science teacher Erin Mastin hopes to leave a positive impact on her current third-grade class by using sports to teach them how to work together as a team.

“Kids always like to cheer for somebody that’s doing something,” Mastin said. “They like the competition and … because we’re a small town and we always gather for our football and basketball games, it’s something they can make a connection with.”

It does help, too, that sports and numbers go hand-in-hand. Mastin said some examples of lesson plans include fractions, where they discuss how many shots were made over how many shots were attempted or finding the difference between the two teams’ final scores.

Mastin thinks of third grade as life math more than anything, and she’s been trying hard to help her third-graders connect and build a relationship with themselves and one another after the last two years of turmoil the world has faced.

In February, Mastin used the Olympics as the lead representation in her math lessons and she found ways able to bring things closer to home because there was an actual Olympian from Boyne City, Michigan, who competed in the women’s aerial freeskiing event: Kaila Kuhn.

She had the chance to do something similar in March.

It was March 2 with two minutes left on the clock in the fourth quarter of the Michigan State women’s basketball Big Ten Tournament second-round opener against Purdue. Mastin had been peeking at the score here and there to see how the Spartan women were doing against the Boilermakers, but it was finally break time. The children were settled down with snacks and juice boxes and she thought, why not? What better way to incorporate sports into our math day than watching senior guard Nia Clouden hit buckets to put MSU into the quarterfinals.

Mastin’s been a diehard fan of MSU for as long as she can remember – she said her classroom is even covered in green and white decorum, along with posters of different men and women leaders and teams in the sports world to incorporate equal representation for both the young girls and the young boys she guides.

“I thought it would be a cool thing to show some of the young girls that there (was) a tournament going on for (women) too because it doesn’t seem like it always gets as much hype,” Mastin said. “They know that I’m a Spartan fan. I get a lot of both they’re either agreeing with me or yelling those nasty ‘Go Blue!’ words at me and I’m always trying to sway them to my side.”

Mastin tweeted a picture of her class watching Clouden at the line, their little magic fingers wiggling enthusiastically.

She said they had a blast cheering for the Spartans, even if they’re still a little confused. It gives them the motivation to chase their own dreams and say, “Hey, I can do that too, regardless of what I look like.” It gives them that boost to go out into the world and want to be good at something, want to put effort into something.

They watched the Spartans outlast the Boilermakers and make it into the quarterfinals with a little mental math like addition and subtraction to keep their brains moving.

The tweet received a lot of positive feedback from the community, as well as replies from Clouden and Michigan State Head Coach Suzy Merchant. It warmed Mastin’s “green” heart, you could say, to have even that minor connection.

“You go into teaching, I think, to make an impact,” Mastin said. “It’s to do your part in the world, to reach out and make a difference in somebody’s life. I know that sounds corny, but it’s why you keep coming back every year, especially after these last couple of years that have been tough in the education world for (students and teachers alike).”

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