Having a Ball

Article excerpt

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

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 ballbased 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 ballgames. …