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STEM on and off the court

Researcher Michael Chestnut examines the connection between STEM and sports.

Image with brief facts about author, Michael Chestnut
Image with brief facts about author
Photo credit: Photo provided by the author

Tasks often given on the basketball court during practice build muscle memory and quick thinking that allow players to perform moves without hesitation. I believe this concept can also be an overlooked bridge to introduce kids to math and physics specifically, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) generally. The approach I have taken to combine these two seemingly disparate activities is to insert drills in basketball practice that subconsciously make students think about math – such as what angle to approach the basket from, or how far to take a shot from the goal to increase percentage of success. Outside the court, this can be paired with activities such poster competitions and robotics-development.

This approach gives students time to think about ways to do these types of calculations in an environment where they can mentally relax and enjoy themselves. When I am tutoring, I often must take into consideration the student’s confidence in their ability to perform in math. I also try to find out what the student likes and what they are confident about. Once this is pinpointed, it is usually easy to explain how math contributes to it. Once they see that relationship, it really helps make the connection between STEM and sports. I believe this method will strengthen their foundational understanding that can propel students to want to learn more about math and physics and to ultimately succeed in STEM industries such as engineering and medicine.

The bridge between math and sports could also be used to encourage those who are not as well represented in STEM to pursue the field.  Another benefit would be to increase students’ understanding of its importance so that they utilize STEM techniques more in whatever professional path they choose.

There are many more hurdles we need to climb in STEM education, including access to quality instruction, but I think the integration of sports principles into science education and outreach will help get us over many of them. As fewer people are shown to have access to STEM education, many teachers and scientists like myself have worked to bring attention to and to resolve this problem through innovative means. Take football, for example. Athletes have begun using their celebrity to capture the attention of football-loving students and take that opportunity to teach those students how math and science intersect with the sport.

This approach of using sports to convey mathematical concepts could be expanded upon and formalized – such as creating new curriculum around it -– particularly once it has been evaluated empirically. This is the direction I hope to pursue.

About Michael Chestnut

Michael Chestnut, a North Carolina native, possesses BS degrees in Computer and Electrical Engineering, an MS in Electrical Engineering and is working on a PhD in Electrical Engineering at North Carolina A&T State University. His research involves personalized healthcare for individuals’ fatigue management, particularly in the fields of service-oriented fields such as nurses, police officers and truck drivers.

Michael’s interest in STEM grew from a love of math, video games and comics. His participation in youth sports sparked an interest in the healthcare field. Pursuing these multi-interests hasn’t always been easy but he enjoys learning and giving back to the communities that have given him so much.

Do you have a question or comment for Michael? Reach out to him on Twitter at @mdchestn.

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Researcher Michael Chestnut examines the connection between STEM and sports.