Contributed by William H. Robertson, Ph.D. aka Dr. Skateboard
How can you get young people interested in science and mathematics? What efforts are there to integrate the experiences of students into the things they need to do and learn in school? How can action sports, like skateboarding and bicycle motocross (BMX), be used to teach physics, algebra, data collection, and help students to grow in their engagement and motivation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)?
The answer lies in part with the use of Action Science within a Skatepark Mathematics Extravaganza!
During the week of November 17-21, 2014, a series of live demonstrations and field-based activities were lead by me, Dr. Bill Robertson (AKA Dr. Skateboard) along with a team of professional and top amateur BMX riders and skateboarders who performed at six high schools in the El Paso, Texas. These events, entitled the “Skatepark Mathematics Extravaganza”, were done in order to engage local students in focused explorations of mathematics set in a real world setting that is relevant to youth culture. Following each demonstration, students participated in field-based data collection activities, designed to give an academic purpose to the presentation. This combination of entertainment with an educational emphasis is often termed “edutainment”.
The Skatepark Mathematics Extravaganza was designed to teach fundamental mathematics concepts in algebra and geometry in an approach that utilizes transformative educational strategies, which help students move from memorizing facts and content to constructing knowledge in meaningful and useful manners. After each demonstration, we led activities that incorporated Mathematics for the students to do, in which the team performed maneuvers on ramps at the schools and students collected real world data. These demonstrations and subsequent field-based activities allowed the students to explore practical applications of mathematics principles in geometry and algebra in the context of BMX and skateboarding. In this effort, the team entertained over 4000 at the six participating high schools, and did a total of sixteen sessions of the Skatepark Mathematics activities for an estimate of 1750 students as well.
The task of the students was to gather data from three different stations in the skatepark where the riders would perform maneuvers. The first station was the half-pipe, a semicircular ramp structure, where riders moved back and forth and where students had to calculate angular motion. The second station was an inclined plane that was approximately one meter tall and three meters long. The riders would drop in on the inclined plane ramp and the student would record the time it took the rider to reach the edge of the ramp. From this data, the students could calculate the acceleration of each rider. The third station was a grind rail, a metal beam affixed to elevated supports on which a rider would travel up to and slide across. The students had to calculate the velocity of the rider as each athlete got to the grind rail, and then determine at the final velocity a rider achieved at the end.
This effort also links to my most recent publication with Corwin, Action Science: Relevant Teaching and Active Learning, which was written as a resource for teachers to integrate a relevant and practical setting for learning centered on youth culture that would allow for the study of fundamental physics principles to be brought forward in skateboarding and bicycle motocross (BMX). For the teacher, there are activities to integrate in the classroom, videos that can be accessed using QR codes and a lot of great ideas for ways to engage and to facilitate active learning in the classroom. The use of skateboarding and BMX also are popular activities that resonate with students and help to make learning STEM topics fun and relatable. You can learn more about the book in my last blog post.
Edutainment has recently been a major growing area of education, showing great promise to motivate students with relevant activities. The Skatepark Mathematics Extravaganza and the materials from Action Science: Relevant Teaching and Active Learning are examples of cutting-edge fusions of popular culture and science, mathematics, engineering and mathematics (STEM) concepts designed to engage and to motivate middle and high school students. The importance of using relevant and practical methods of instruction and curriculum delivery that build on student interests and increase enjoyment in the learning process are critical at the middle and high school levels, especially in the STEM fields. The use of edutainment in this manner is meant to inspire broader interest in STEM for middle and high school students and to develop a culture of education that makes learning more accessible to all students.
Dr. William H. Robertson is an Associate Professor in the Teacher Education Department in the College of Education at the University of Texas, El Paso. His academic areas of expertise are in science education, curriculum development and technology integration in the K-12 levels. A long time participant and performer in skateboarding with over 35 years in the sport, Dr. Robertson has developed Dr. Skateboard’s Action Science, which addresses physical science concepts for middle school students utilizing skateboarding and bicycle motocross (BMX). He is the author of Action Science: Relevant Teaching and Active Learning.,