STEM in Sports

Exclusive Interview with SEEN Magazine

03/26/2019  | 
HEALTH AND WELLNESS
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Science. Technology. Engineering. Mathematics. These academic concepts, otherwise known as STEM, are nothing new to the sports world. In fact, STEM, especially in today’s world, actually drives sports. If you don’t know the correlation of STEM and sports, here are just some basic parallels to think about:

Football and STEM – “Thanks to science, technology, engineering and math, today’s helmets are formulated to reduce the possibility of concussion. Accelerometers built into chin straps can measure the force and direction of impact and help identify head injuries during play.”  https://www.chevronstemzone.com/football/

Basketball and STEM – “Every interaction you have with a basketball is affected by gravity. Gravity is the fundamental force of attraction between objects. Therefore, no matter if you are passing, dribbling, shooting, or dunking, the gravitational force of the Earth is attracting the basketball down to the court floor.”  https://basketballstem.weebly.com/basketball-science.html

Baseball and STEM – “When you watch Major League Baseball, you’re seeing STEM in action. The science of aerodynamics is in every pitch. Engineering is part of every bat, ball, glove and helmet. And the math of statistics can inform a team’s strategy.” https://www.kidscoop.com/this-week-in-kid-scoop/stem-of-baseball/

You get the idea – STEM principles are in every facet of sports. After all, there is a reason why you have dedicated disciplines like sports medicine, awesome sports trainers and pit crews at sporting events, and elaborate training facilities with the best technology. Nothing
new here.

However, what is always new and changing is how sports organizations, affiliates and venues are widely incorporating STEM education as a priority for students of the game. Let’s take a look at what some of our beloved sport organizations and venues are doing in STEM/STEAM education.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium - Atlanta, GA

Located in the heart of Atlanta, Georgia, Mercedes-Benz Stadium is the new home of the Atlanta Falcons (NFL) and Atlanta United FC (Soccer). The stadium is the first professional sports stadium to achieve LEED Platinum in the U.S. and is considered to be the most sustainable sports venue in the world. In addition to being an environmentally- conscious stadium, the venue boasts a state-of-the-art fan experience, world-class technology and video displays, one of the nation’s premiere art collections curated by Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD, and a great STEM/STEAM program to boot. Here’s what Dawn Brown, Tour Operations Manager at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, has to say about STEM and STEAM education at the venue.

SEEN: It seems that more and more sports organizations/venues are focused on developing robust STEM/STEAM curriculum. What was the initial reason for Mercedes-Benz Stadium (MBS) developing a STEM program?

MB Stadium: From the beginning, Mercedes-Benz Stadium was designed to reimagine the stadium experience, whether it is for the biggest sporting events in the world, a concert, corporate event or a student ready to learn. Mercedes-Benz Stadium is proud to offer a non-traditional setting for students to learn outside of the classroom, in a fun and engaging environment. Hosting students in our stadium and being able to showcase all of the innovation as it relates to technology, sustainability, engineering and architectural elements that makes Mercedes-Benz Stadium a living classroom.  MBS offers endless educational opportunities that we have built into a robust curriculum giving students real-life examples of how a STEAM career can take shape.   

SEEN: For those who don’t know, what would you say is the direct correlation of STEM disciplines to football and soccer (Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United)?

MB Stadium: There are so many ways that we can correlate STEM to students visiting Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

  • The science behind an athlete’s physical preparation, nutrition required for maximum performance and ways an athlete recovers after a game.
  • The cutting-edge technology in Mercedes-Benz Stadium or the technology that players are wearing to analyze their performance.
  • The engineering behind Mercedes-Benz Stadium is second to none. The retractable roof design with the halo-video board along with the stadium’s transparent ETFE facade creates has created a one-of-a-kind engineering marvel.
  • Math and Science are innate parts of sports when it comes to stats, figures and data. Being able to analyze data real time allows for coaches and staff to adjust on and off the field becoming increasingly more important in today’s sports.

SEEN: What makes Mercedes Benz’s STEM/STEAM program different from others?

MB Stadium: Mercedes-Benz Stadium was built and designed as a catalyst for growth and transformation to the city of Atlanta and our new STEAM tours are a part of that. We have built a curriculum to show students how they can become the next great inventor, creator, or engineer through fun, interactive tours and activations using our stadium as a backdrop. We are continuously innovating our program with the most current STEAM disciplines to our visiting students.

SEEN: Has Mercedes-Benz found a way to incorporate STEAM (A=Art) into its program as well?

MB Stadium: Mercedes-Benz Stadium partnered with the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), to curate a collection of energetic artwork in all mediums throughout the facility. With over 200 pieces of art from 55 different artists, students will be able to experience art throughout the building.

SEEN: What perspective should a student, or anyone, take away from your program?

MB Stadium: We want people to walk away inspired. Once they leave the stadium, it is our hope that we have shown them that you can learn anywhere if you look beyond the surface. These tours are designed to get students engaged with the elements of STEAM outside their classroom in a fun and interesting environment.

SEEN: What new opportunities are you looking to implement in the program this year?

MB Stadium: One of the things that we, as an organization, strive to do is continually innovate. This year we have created a more interactive environment and really began specializing our tours based on the topics of STEAM and the areas where we can showcase the unique features of the stadium, such as sustainability or our art program.

SEEN: Final thoughts: where do you see STEM education going in the next five years?

MB Stadium: STEAM is one of the foundations of education and hopefully through our fun and interactive tours we can get more students interested in STEAM. Using a facility such as Mercedes-Benz stadium as a learning tool should have an impact on students and hopefully propel more programs and opportunities like this for students in the future.

NASCAR Hall of Fame - Charlotte, NC 

The NASCAR Hall of Fame in uptown Charlotte, North Carolina is an interactive, entertainment facility honoring the history and heritage of NASCAR. The venue, owned by the City of Charlotte, is designed to entertain and educate everyone with the facility’s artifacts, hands-on exhibits, and a 278-person cutting-edge theater. The venue’s goal is to honor those in NASCAR – from pit crew members to drivers to team owners – who have impacted the sport. Here’s how Eliza Russell, Education Manager at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, says they are currently making an impact on STEM/STEAM education:

SEEN: It seems more and more sports organizations are focused on developing a robust STEM/STEAM curriculum. NASCAR Hall of Fame has had a STEM program in place for the past four years. What was the initial reason for developing a STEM program?

NASCAR HOF: The NASCAR Hall of Fame mission is to celebrate and honor the sport of NASCAR.  As part of the mission, educating and connecting new generations to NASCAR by sparking and motivating discovery through the science, technology, math and engineering of NASCAR past, present and future.  As the national educational learning community in K-12 has been working to build the STEM pipeline and provide opportunities and have students learn more about how these disciplines interconnect to careers, the education program for the NASCAR Hall of Fame has been developed to meet the needs of both the school districts, teachers and corporation to highlight STEM in Action beyond the classroom walls.  NASCAR provides an exceptional platform for students to learn about STEM in a real-world application. From engineering of cars and tracks to applied science and math to calculate speed and fuel mileage to the design and artistry of race cars to even the informational reading of data, charts and rules of competition, all the key disciplines of STEM are connected. STEM is about the interconnection of all the disciplines working in concert vs. the teaching of the individual elements. This is the foundation for the education program at the NASCAR Hall of Fame for both students and teachers alike. 

SEEN: For those who don’t know, what is the direct correlation of STEM to NASCAR?

NASCAR HOF: STEM is Science and Math as seen through engineering solutions by utilizing tools and technology to help advance the sport. In other words, STEM is NASCAR. Such as an engineer in NASCAR may be a person examining the electrical systems, the chassis or even the shape of the track. A scientist could be a chemist and in NASCAR it could be the individuals examining the make up of the tire and different components used for a particular track or a race condition or they might be a person utilizing carbon fiber to build stronger parts or body of the car which is lighter. Technology is everything from the air wrench to removing a tire, the pressure of the nitrogen that might need to vary, to the tools used to monitor speeding infraction, or inspecting a car to ensure it meets the standard guidelines, or the lead engineer utilizing the ECU from the engine of the car to monitor how a particular engine performed in a race. Math is involved from the design and fabrication of a car, figuring how fast a crew needs to pit a car or what the banking or angle of a track should be to impact the force on the car for speed.

SEEN: What makes NASCAR Hall of Fame’s STEM program different from others?

NASCAR HOF: NASCAR Hall of Fame’s programs focuses on an education teaching philosophy based on the engagement of students through questioning for discovery. Creative thinking and critical thinking are essential tools that working professionals use every day in their careers. Our programs are designed to have students solve problems based on what they have learned in school, what they experience in their personal lives and where it applies in racing. Our staff ask probing questions to answer questions or point a student in a direction vs. providing specific how-to instructions. Such as if they are building a car, student can think about how the wheels move by referring to their own bike or that an axel moves the wheels vs. the wheels turning on their own as they are bolted to the car. By engaging students to discover and answer their own questions or providing their own solutions, they are engaged and amazed by what they know or can experiment to find answers. STEM is about creative and critical thinking vs. following what has already been done before. NASCAR Hall of Fame, by using the real world of NASCAR inspires students to look for the new ways of thinking outside the box which is what the sport is based on.

SEEN: Has NASCAR found a way to incorporate STEAM (A=Art) into its program
as well?

NASCAR HOF: NASCAR Hall of Fame has incorporated art into the programs through multiple aspects including both field trips for school and after-school programs for clubs, scouts or after-school care programs. Art is a critical component for NASCAR.  Each of the cars is rolling art and the design of programs, hero cards or driver cards which are handed out or even the tractor-trailers that travel across the country each week are art in action. The student has opportunities to create their brands and logos, design their cars and make trophies or hero cars. Students also learn how to draw, sketch and use graphic design to iillustrate their cars. Cars are great for students to explore art; the fundamental of shapes are key to car design.

SEEN: What are some of the career paths, someone with a STEM background, could aspire to in the NASCAR organization?

NASCAR HOF: NASCAR has a vast array of STEM careers from very traditional — engineers (mechanical, electrical, civil, area and more — to graphic designers to mechanics, welders, fabricators at the race shops to engine builder, mechanists and designers at the engine shops to track designers, road crew, and much more at the tracks.  But, NASCAR itself through its R&D and competition staff and directors are moving the sports careers further into new STEM career directions such as technicians and officials that inspect cars with laser or monitor speeding violations through computer technology. STEM even translates into the graphic and social media aspects through new racing games or simulator testing to exploring social media advances to take the fan into the race experience.

SEEN: What perspective should a student, or anyone, take away from your program?

NASCAR HOF: Our goal is to spark and motivate discovery through the science, technology, math and engineering of NASCAR past, present and future. The NASCAR Hall of Fame education program provides that avenue to explore, experiment and engage with an ever-evolving sport where what was last week may not be the same next week. That is what makes it exciting – rules and competition changes; technology and innovation keep things moving forward, and there is more to discover than cars that make left turns. It’s the what, why, how and who knew that make it fun, entertaining but mainly impactful for everyone’s future — cars or technology of tomorrow may be in front of you today.

SEEN: What new opportunities are you looking to implement in the program this year?

NASCAR HOF: In SY 19-20, we will be adding new exhibit exploration for the NASCAR Hall of Fame that complement the interactive STEM stations where students, or anyone, can learn more about careers and application of STEM in NASCAR. We also will be launching STEM Days for high school and middle school that has students engaging with working professionals to solve problems and learn more about their career paths. Additionally, we will be piloting virtual classroom experience to extend the learning opportunities. We also will be introducing a new energy suite of classes supporting statewide curriculum standard changes. 

SEEN: Final thoughts: where do you see STEM education going in the next five years?

NASCAR HOF: The combining of STEM to the real-world application or what is known as PBL — problem or project-based learning — over the next five years as the fundamental for learning vs. being for select students or schools. Students are having the opportunity to apply standards of learning to what does this mean to me in my life when I am five or when I am 50. Integrated learning can be where informational reading, communication and STEM can be viewed as part of a whole discipline.

SEEN will continue to explore the impact of STEM/STEAM education programs throughout the year as we talk with various major sports organizations, affiliates, and athletes. Look to www.seenmagazine.us for more interviews and information.
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