Each year, the Mavs partner with Science of Sport to empower Dallas ISD students and make learning practical for students. The program teaches young people to understand science and engineering concepts through the game of basketball.
For instance, the correct arc and rotation of a shot requires the elbow to stay bent at 90-degrees before release. Then there are other concepts like calculating wingspan and using fractions to determine free throw percentages. Other components include stadium design and understanding velocity and reaction time.
The program involves Texas standards-based curriculum for fifth and sixth grade teachers and hands-on camps for students and teachers. This season the Mavericks and PwC announced the Science of Basketball program is offered to all fifth grade students in Dallas ISD.
Mavs forward/center Dwight Powell and NBA legend Rolando Blackman have participated in Science of Basketball for the last five seasons.
Teachers and students alike love the interactive lessons because it makes learning fun. Everything ties back to basketball.
“People don’t understand that when you look at a basket, I’m thinking about the fingertips, the elbow, the structure, the arc,” Blackman explained.
“I’m thinking about getting the ball to the middle of the basket and how that feels. So just the infusion of the scientific piece can make everything so interesting like I learned as a kid.”
Wednesday afternoon’s event at Blanton Elementary in Pleasant Grove included a special appearance by Blackman, the Mavs community relations team, plus the Mavs ManiAACs and D-Town Crew entertainers.
Powell had to miss the event due to NBA playoff preparations.
Science of Sport executive director Daren Heaton was also on hand to oversee the event and worked with the students. Heaton is a former collegiate baseball player who previously worked for the Arizona Diamondbacks and now provides STEM programs for over 20 professional sports teams around the country.
“It’s really amazing for PwC to provide this opportunity for students all throughout DISD,” Heaton said. “Today we’re focused on providing some interactive stations that are about free throw percentages, trying to find the optimal shooting arc, working on their passing, dribbling, reaction time…[there are] a lot of different fun ways to help them improve their academics through using basketball.”
Dallas ISD’s Blanton Elementary is a fascinating school with one of the most storied histories in North Texas. Years ago, 90 percent of students lived below the poverty rate, and the school repeatedly tested below the state levels.
Everything changed about five years ago, and Blanton has blossomed into one of the top-performing PK-5 schools in the district. One of the main reasons for the big turnaround is because DISD hired exceptional new teachers and administrators to lead the campus. DISD also hired principal Alicia Iwasko, a member of DISD’s “Accelerating Campus Excellence” program.
She’s stayed with the school ever since to watch the elementary turn into a premier elementary school.
Iwasko said she’s incredibly proud of the students and educators who continue to soar. Wednesday’s Science of Basketball event was an accumulation of lots of hard work.
“We wanted to make this experience today as memorable as possible,” Iwasko shared. “We are so happy that every student in fifth grade can do these activities. Science of Basketball is very important to the students.
“They’re asking the mathematical questions and learning about angles, which is very important. Many of them say, ‘oh, math is not for me’ or ‘no, I don’t want to try,” but this program has opened their eyes to a new way of learning.”
Blackman and the Mavs’ entertainers worked with the youth at various stations during Wednesday’s camp.
The kids dribbled between cones, made chest passes to hit a square target, worked on agility drills, measured jump velocity and learned how to calculate their free throw percentages.
Even for those who work in professional sports on a daily basis, science and math is key part of the job.
The analytics team is constantly sequencing player statistics for the best game match-ups and they determine where an athlete is most valuable on the court. Meanwhile, the sports reporters utilize game percentages and statistical data to determine the success of an individual’s game.
Using these same concepts in the classroom makes complete sense, and every Science of Basketball lesson brings math and science alive for the young people.
Fifth-graders across Dallas ISD received a Science of Basketball workbook this year with unique lessons like measuring wingspans, understanding salary caps and venturing with the Mavs to visit NBA teams across the country using math.
“From an equity standpoint, every single student is able to participate in this program now,” Heaton said. “Teachers are receiving the curriculum and then all the students receive this really engaging STEM workbook that has active learning components. They can learn about stadium design or design different uniforms, work on elasticity. There are so many different topics within basketball to help them improve their academics.”
Blackman, a 13-year NBA veteran who scored over 17,000 points and pulled down 3,000 rebounds, says his most significant accomplishments in life took place in the classroom. He’s one of only four players in Dallas Mavericks’ history to have his jersey retired by the franchise.
Most of all, Blackman understands the value of an education.
After arriving in the United States at eight years old from his native Panama, Blackman spoke very little English and worked with teachers for hours before school to learn how to read and write. He saw the benefit of good educators and believes they are some of our greatest resources in life.
He is a strong proponent of the Mavs Science of Basketball workshops and camps because he can combine his love for basketball and education.
“Science for me is fun, and that’s how I applied myself when I played the game anyway,” Blackman said. “Shooting the basketball, how far, the angle, defense, how fast you have to get to the courts.
“It’s a great application that I think that if teachers can put a format together that keeps it fun, the work will also be fun.”
Science of Basketball makes learning practical and it can transform students’ lives who might struggle to learn on paper. All the lessons come alive.
Then there’s the teamwork aspect. Youngsters work together in groups towards one goal and they can connect with their parents and friends through something joyful like sports.
Basketball, and even sports in general, has this magnetic way of uniting people regardless of age, race or gender. There are countless reasons why this program continues to flourish for students and teachers in the classroom.
“These things will be significant to the students later in life,” Blackman said.
Blackman noted that he’s genuinely appreciative of the teachers and students who participated in the Mavs Science of Basketball this year. And who knows, perhaps some of the children will someday work in sports and use these very lessons to transform the industry.