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Science from Vancouver to the Classroom

The Winter Olympic games come to school.

For many students, natural science seems irrelevant to everyday life. Whether they are teaching biology or physics, unless they explicitly show students how formulas and processes apply to their own lives, teachers run the risk of disengaging students and allowing their minds to wander freely.

Fortunately for our sportscentric culture, NBC Learn and the National Science Foundation have found a way to show K12 students that science is applicable to everything from fashion to halfpipes. NBC has just released a 16-part video series titled The Science of the Olympic Winter Games to coincide with the 2010 Winter Olympics, which start Feb. 12 in Vancouver.

Presented by NBC Learn, NBC Olympics and the National Science Foundation, each four- to six-minute video is freely accessible to anyone through the NSF ( or NBC Learn ( Web sites. Topics range from the physics of figure skating to the science behind the competitive advantages of wearing certain types of clothing. For example, students will learn how vertical velocity and the law of conservation of angular momentum allow 17-year-old figure skater Rachael Flatt to, she hopes, jump and spin her way to Olympic gold.

"We deliberately made the videos short form so they can be integrated into classroom activities," says Adam Jones, senior vice president of NBC News. "This is a very innovative way to illustrate scientific processes in the classroom."

Through working with the NSF, NBC Learn is building resources to help teachers integrate these videos into classroom discussions, projects and homework. "We are currently working on creating lesson plans, suggestions on how these videos can be used, and professional development courses for teachers," says Jones.

Each of the 16 videos will be shown on the Today show on NBC throughout the Olympics, with information on how educators can access the clips through either the NBC Learn or NSF Web sites and utilize them in the classroom. Francis Eberle, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, says, "This is an opportunity to engage students in a visual media, to show science is everywhere by connecting current events to science."

Because this series shows athletes that students are familiar with, such as snowboard gold medalist Shaun White, students will likely become interested quickly. "This particular series is useful because it's sports oriented, and in the U.S. we have a very strong culture around sports," says Eberle.

According to Jones, The Science of the Winter Olympic Games is only the first endeavor with the National Science Foundation. And NBC Learn plans to create video series for other subjects as well by partnering with organizations such as the Gates Foundation and Kellogg's. "Storytelling is exactly what we do in short form, and this is only the first of many projects," Jones says.