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Who’s No. 1? Investigating the Mathematics of Rankings

No. 13 seed Oakland, with Travis Bader and Coach Greg Kampe, makes a tempting pick against No. 4 Texas in the second round.

Jay Pickthorn/Associated PressThe No. 13 N.C.A.A. seed, Oakland, with Travis Bader and Coach Greg Kampe, makes a tempting pick against No. 4, Texas, in the second round.Go to related FiveThirtyEight blog post »|Go to related article »Overview| Rankings and ratings can have considerable, and serious, implications. How do we determine that a student, team, school, teacher or policy is better than another? And what does “better” mean? In this lesson, students explore the use of quantitative ratings by examining how Division I college basketball teams are ranked, and how specific mathematical decisions can have significant consequences.

Materials| Computers with Internet access; Simple Spreadsheet software (optional)

Warm-up| Tell students to pair up and work with their partners to answer the following questions:

How can we determine the top student in school? Would you use a single variable, like grade point average? Or would you create a ranking system based on multiple variables, like G.P.A. and standardized test scores, activity participation and perhaps other factors? How might you begin to create a fair composite ranking system using quantifiable measures?

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