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Camp Combines Sports and Math to Engage Students in Learning

By guest blogger Gina Cairney

In a relay race, is it faster to hand off the baton while looking back at your teammate, or looking straight ahead?

That's what a group of 8th grade students in Illinois were trying to determine at a scientific sports camp, organized by the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, which uses sports to teach science and math concepts that go beyond teamwork or physical fitness.

The students, who tested their hypothesis at the Belle Valley School track field in Belleville, Ill., concluded that looking back at your teammate yielded a faster time than looking straight ahead during a relay race, according to the Belleville News-Democrat.

The camp is led by six education majors from McKendree University in Lebanon, Ill.

In addition to learning the scientific method—where students create a hypothesis and test it—students also learned about how fast different animals move, and the adaptation of humans' running.

Many different math and science concepts can be taught, as these examples illustrate:

• Students can be taught statistics with fantasy football, or mathematically analyze how adding a spin to a tennis ball or volleyball alters the object's path through the air.

• In 2010, the NFL, National Science Foundation, and NBC released a 10-part documentary series called the "Science of NFL Football," which shows how science principles are used in pro football, according to The Fifth Down, a New York Times blog. The show focused on how physics, math, and other science concepts translate into a play on the field.

• Sports can also be used to teach language. According to a study published in the April 2012 issues of the Asian EFL Journal, English-language learners can benefit from learning English through sports, as well as learning to work with others to stimulate intellectual, physical, and social development. In the study, a class of 15 ELLs were introduced to the history of a particular sport. The lessons were divided into group discussions, activity sessions, and another discussion session, which emphasized English-speaking and learning not only sports-related terms, but how to express oneself. By the end of the lessons, researchers found that ELLs had become familiar and confident with the English vocabulary, and were more likely to express themselves in English after each lesson.

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