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 LAST WORD

Opinion by Adedeji Badiru

Having a Ball

How can engineers engage the K-12 generation in STEM? Think sports.


A variety of athletic activities provide an ideal entry point to explain physics principles, including the effects of gravity, friction, and pressure.If engineering educators want to recruit and retain more undergraduates, we must help cultivate new educational opportunities for K-12 students in science, technology, engineering, and math. While a number of engineering educators are now working with K-12 teachers and administrators to improve curricula, our efforts need not be limited to classroom learning. Two engineering colleagues and I have teamed up with an associate professor of education and the STEM education coordinator at the Dayton Regional STEM Center to develop an informal curriculum for middle and high school students based on sports.

Our project, STEM’n Sports, highlights the connection between what kids observe and experience on the field of play and basic science principles. Ball sports provide an ideal entry point to explain physics principles, including Newton’s Laws of Motion and the effects of gravity, friction, and pressure. We can tackle such questions as “What makes a ball bounce?” “What makes a ball bend in flight?” “How can gravity and pressure affect your game?” and “How can friction and pressure impede your game?” In soccer, for example, we can illustrate a variety of physics principles, such as why it is that players do better by staying in motion on the soccer pitch. We can also show and explain the effect of inflation pressure on the way a ball bounces, the way higher grass increases friction, and how using physics reasoning gives players an edge in analyzing angles, estimating geometric dimensions, and anticipating opponents' actions and reactions.

Aiming to appeal to a broadly diverse student body of both boys and girls, STEM’n Sports will, if we succeed in obtaining funding, offer a variety of ball-based activities, including soccer, baseball, basketball, football, softball, and volleyball. The curriculum will be distributed through the website of the Dayton Regional STEM Center as well as other outlets. It will include online simulations for single and multiple users that demonstrate fundamental physics principles at work in ball-games. Teachers will be recruited for summer fellowships, during which they will develop a curriculum for a weeklong day camp on the University of Dayton campus that integrates sports with STEM lessons. We also plan a summer clinic for physical education teachers and coaches that will instruct them on how STEM themes can be demonstrated through sports.

STEM’n Sports capitalizes on the large amount of time students spend out of school, the pervasiveness of sports in our society, and the positive impact, suggested in a recent Dutch study, that physical activity can have on academic performance. While we await word on government funding, our team is promoting the program at Dayton-area science fairs and symposiums.

Companies across the country are clamoring for a technically competent workforce. This is particularly true among defense-related firms, prominent in the Dayton area, which recognize that future successes will be dependent on STEM-oriented knowledge workers. If it is correct that students’ potential is evident by the eighth grade, STEM education must be commenced early. As much as conventional education is being expanded to cover more STEM needs, it must be supplemented with informal education strategies. Sports offers a viable strategy for improving kids’ engagement with STEM, serving both as an effective educational tool and a way to bind the public to our efforts.

 

Adedeji Badiru is a professor of systems engineering at the Air Force Institute of Technology. Partners in developing STEM’n Sports are Margaret Pinnell, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Dayton; Suzanne Franco, associate professor of educational leadership at Wright State University; Teresa Wu, associate professor of industrial engineering at Arizona State University; and Sandi Preiss, STEM education coordinator at the Dayton Regional STEM Center.

 



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