SportTechie Feature “Science of Sport Seeks to Grow Its Impact in STEM Education”

Check out this Science of Sport feature on SportTechie!

“The day after the Los Angeles Dodgers clinched a berth in their second-straight NLCS was a warm and pleasant afternoon in Southern California. A group of educators gathered in an auditorium at Worthington Elementary in Inglewood, Calif., clad in blue. Smiles and chatter filled the room. Not because the local nine—Dodger Stadium is just 11 miles away—was on its way toward another hopeful World Series berth, but because the teachers were playing around with baseball itself, learning how pitches and base running can be used to demonstrate math and physics concepts.

The event was organized by Science of Sport, a non-profit foundation that aims to use sports to promote science, technology, engineering, and math education. Now in its fifth year of operation, the organization has served more than 100,000 students across nine different states. The Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation is one of the newest believers in SoS and its method of inspiring both educators and students alike.

“For more than two decades, the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation has worked to drive positive change and strengthen some of the most challenged communities in the greater Los Angeles region. At the core of our mission is the significant impact of sports as an engagement tool to get kids and families access to educational, health and recreational resources—keeping them active and supporting their academic success,” said Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation Executive Director Nichol Whiteman. “We strongly believe that education programs, like Science of Baseball, can provide access, opportunity and innovation to youth at critical engagement stages.”

When University of Arizona associate engineering professor Ricardo Valerdi founded Science of Sport in 2013, he was looking to use the power of sports to inspire engagement and redirect that towards learning.

“I read Moneyball, and the light bulb went off,” Valerdi said Ricardo. “I asked myself ‘Why can’t we use baseball statistics to teach kids math?’ Then, we started doing it, seeing the ways kids responded, and then the bulbs really started flashing. We knew we’d found something.”

Valerdi, along with executive director Daren Heaton, has turned the small upstart operation, which initially only used baseball as a teaching too, into a diverse organization running teacher trainings, STEM showcases, and more.

SoS is also currently developing a game app to expand the reach of its curriculum, and to make it more accessible to younger, more digitally connected, generations. “We know the power that gamification can bring to learning. With our app, we’ll be able to transform the paper curriculum into something that digital natives can relate to,” Heaton said. “It allows us and our content to live in their world, which will make us more effective.”

Valerdi and Heaton believe that the app will allow the organization to grow by two orders of magnitude, reaching another 100,000 students and integrating its teaching techniques with more sports, within the next five to 10 years.

“If we continue to produce good content, build an appealing app and it’s available on the Apple Store, anything is possible,” said Valerdi.

The app is a partnership between Science of Sport and dfusion, an app developer that typically focuses on health and wellness solutions. dfusion’s Jill Denner and Tamara Kuhn are bringing the technical and research-based expertise to the development of the project, while SoS is providing the content and teaching knowhow.

“I am excited to partner with the dynamic and innovative team from Science of Sport to extend the work that my colleagues and I have been doing on equity and inclusion in STEM,” Denner said. “The game is being designed with an eye toward engaging females and underrepresented minorities in STEM fields, and is being informed by educational and learning sciences research.”

At Worthington Elementary on Oct. 9, Science of Sport’s focus was concentrated on teachers, rather than students, because just like an app, individual educators can reach out to a multitude of students. Even in a digital world, developing teachers remains a key part of what SoS does.

“Experiences like this are extremely important,” said Nicole Elliott, a second and third grade teacher at Worthington. “Many of our kids don’t get to go to games, to do lots of these things … being able to provide things like this for them is awesome. These are very different kinds of activities we are learning about today. We don’t do things like that here at school, kids are going to love these.”

Gilbert Lopez, another second and third grade educator at Worthington, believes making connections with something his students are familiar with can help reinforce key learning concepts. “I’m a big believer in baseball, I use it in a lot of the things we do in class,” he said. “It’s something they love and see every day, which makes it something that helps them learn more easily.”

Jesse Lovejoy is the Director of 49ers EDU and the 49ers Museum. He’s also Managing Partner of EDU Academy, which was created to help organizations understand how to harness the power of sport to introduce STEAM education programming. In his free time, he hangs out with his wife Stephanie, daughter Vivienne, and their two rescue dogs, Buster and Lucy, and nerds out on different ways to inspire young learners.”