What makes certain baseball bats hit the ball farther than others? What material is put inside elbow pads and knee pads to prevent injury? Why does the shape of a hockey skate blade matter? These are questions that young people ask who are involved in sports.
I am a mom of two young boys, so we spend a lot of our time involved in different sports activities. Whether heading to the ice rink or sitting outside for a little league game, there is evidence of science, technology, engineering, and math all around us. There are tons of examples of chemistry and physics to be found in sports! Sports and STEM have a lot of connections that can be explored in the classroom.
You can pursue this type of learning in the classroom with your students. Check out Defined Learning’s performance tasks for ideas and resources. Whether through research, experiments, or observations, these are all opportunities to explore STEM in real and engaging ways.
Start Asking Questions
One way to get students thinking about the connections between sports and STEM is by asking questions. Does anyone know what’s inside of a baseball? If you’re not sure, let’s break one open and find out! Students in a 4th grade class were curious, so they used different tools and methods to get to the core of it. Finding tightly wound cotton and rubber inside, students considered why those materials work best.
What temperature do ice-skating rinks have to maintain in order for skaters to glide across the ice easily? If water freezes at 32 degrees, why do ice rinks keep there temperature lower? How does that impact figure skaters and hockey players while they are doing a routine or playing a game? How does the Zamboni work to keep the ice in the right condition?
How have football helmets changed throughout time? Students can research the history of how helmets were first made of leather. Over the last 100 years, helmets have evolved into a high-tech process ensuring that players are protected. Watch videos, research the history, bring in some helmets and look at. Students can figure out how and why helmets make a difference in this contact sport.
What materials are used to make a basketball backboard? Why does a golf ball have dimples? How are running tracks designed and constructed? These and other questions might be a starting point for a project-based learning unit.
Connect to Text
As students explore different topics in sports and STEM, they will be able to find lots of information online, but connecting them to text will also allow them to investigate this interesting topic. Children’s literature is another way to make connections between STEM and sports.
- She Persisted in Sports: American Olympians Who Changed the Game written by Chelsea Clinton highlights the accomplishments of females in sports. With connections to perseverance and equity, this book offers opportunities for critical thinking in the classroom.
- For career connections, check out STEM Jobs in Sports by Rick Raymos. This book will introduce students to the STEM behind sports and the people who make it happen.
- Check out the books series Connecting STEM and Sports by Jaqueline Havelka. With ten different books by the author, students can find the STEM in track and field, gymnastic, auto racing, and even “extreme” sports.
- The Secret Science of Sports by Jennifer Swanson explains the math, physics, and engineering behind grand slams, triple axels, and penalty kicks. Students will enjoy finding out the “why” behind different sports activities.
Experiment with some sports STEM activities in your class. Think about some of the physical science experiments that you can try to engage students in movement and activities but also exploring ideas in physics.
Hold a basketball with your arms out in front of you at shoulder height. When you drop it, will it bounce back up to the same spot? How high will it bounce? How might we measure that? Explore kinetic energy to learn why the ball bounces the way that it does.
Practice your golf putting and put your knowledge of angles, force, and motion into action. What factors influence if your putt makes it into the cup? If you have the make a bank shot, where should you aim? Students can try out the physics behind miniature golf right in your classroom.
When we offer students opportunities to investigate STEM in real ways, we are providing authentic learning experiences. Why study STEM in isolation when you can explore within the world around us? For our students, sports may be one thing that they are passionate about. We can connect learning to things that students enjoy so that the work becomes meaningful to the students, as well as giving them authentic ways to explore STEM in action.
About the Author:
Jacie has published numerous articles on topics like principal leadership, designing effective interventions, and leading STEAM and Making in schools. She is the author of STEAM Makers: Fostering Creativity and Innovation in the Elementary Classroom, Connect to Lead: Power Up Your Learning Network to Move Your School Forward, Remake Literacy: Innovative Instructional Strategies for Maker Learning, Unlock Creativity: Opening a World of Imagination With Your Students, and All In: Taking a Gamble in Education. Jacie is a featured blogger with Demco, Defined STEM, and Education Closet, as well as maintaining her own blog, Creativity in the Making at www.jaciemaslyk.blogspot.com .