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Schools add another ‘S’ to STEM—for sports

  • ACTIVE LEARNING—By incorporating athletic activities into STEM learning, teachers can make practical connections that students better understand—plus, it adds opportunities to integrate a dynamic component to instruction.
  • ACTIVE LEARNING—By incorporating athletic activities into STEM learning, teachers can make practical connections that students better understand—plus, it adds opportunities to integrate a dynamic component to instruction. (Provided by Free Agent BMX).

Administrators from the Houston area discovered a more effective way of teaching terminal velocity and gravity—by keeping students afloat on 150-mph winds inside a vertical tunnel. The experience—hosted by the indoor skydiving facility iFLY—is one of many physical activities that schools use to better engage students in STEM courses.

“PE-based STEM brings life back into physics,” says Georgette Yakman, founder of STEAM Education, a company that provides PD. “It connects athletes to the deep level of mathematical science behind their movements.”

A home run

Teachers should start by showing students how physical activities link to STEM standards, says Yakman. For example, schools can connect trigonometry to baseball. Students learn that hitting the ball at different angles changes the total distance a ball travels, says Daren Heaton, vice president of business development at Science Sport, a nonprofit foundation that develops physical STEM activities.

Students can also experience angular momentum by running the bases. “They learn that running in a straight line might be the shortest distance, but it’s not necessarily going to be the fastest distance because you are stopping and starting,” Heaton says.

Across the finish line

Students also calculate speed with BMX bikes. At Edison Township Public Schools in New Jersey, pairs of learners ride 100 meters and time their results to solve the equation for speed: distance divided by time. Students also explore force and aerodynamics by adjusting the bike’s seat.

“Students learn that if a person who’s 6 feet tall gets on a bike that’s designed for a person who’s 5 feet, they are not going to achieve maximum power,” says Mike Duvarney of the USA BMX Foundation, which developed the bike lessons with a company called STEM Sports.