DALLAS – Bianca Vazquez couldn’t wait to get back to her elementary classroom to share with her students what she recently learned in the Dallas Mavericks Science of Basketball Teacher Training presented by Flowserve.
Because of her training in the program, Vazquez wants to stress to her students the important role that science and math play in the world of sports. And that being successful in one of those areas can’t be accomplished without being successful in all three areas.
“I really want to show them and let them know how what they’re learning in the classroom applies to real life,” said Vasquez, a math teacher at Seagoville North Elementary. “In this case, showing them that if you want to become a professional basketball player, you’ve got to learn math and you’ve got to learn the science behind it because all of that is going to help you become successful and become the amazing basketball player that you can be.”
Nearly two dozen teachers from 10 Dallas Independent School District schools recently spent a portion of their day at the Mavs’ practice facilities learning tools to teach Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) through basketball examples. The program was developed by Science of Sport and involves standards-based curriculum for fifth and sixth grade teachers and hands-on camps for teachers and students.
Mavs forward Dwight Powell and Mavs Legend Rolando Blackman helped demonstrate some of the examples where basketball interacts with the STEM program.
“STEM education is very important, especially today with the way the world is moving with technology, with social media and with the Internet,” Powell said. “With how much we’re using technology these days, it’s very important that we have the next generation prepared to take advantage of these kinds of innovations.”
Ricardo Valerdi, the founder and chief scientist of the Science of Sport, meticulously devised a method to get kids involved in science and math, while having fun doing it. In addition to basketball, they’ve also implemented programs in Major League Baseball, Major Soccer League and NCAA college basketball.
“The Science of Basketball program is a way to get middle school and elementary school kids interested and excited about math and science,” Valerdi said. “We use the teachers as the way to disseminate the program into classrooms.”
“Our theory is if we get the teachers excited about this material, then they’re going to translate that excitement to the school room.”
After going through the four-hour program, Shaun Phillips is overly ready to share his excitement with his students. A PE teacher at Alex Sanger Elementary and Middle School, Sanger was asked to rate how much fun he had learning about the STEM program.
“On a scale from one to 10, I think it was an 11,” Phillips said. “The first thing I’m going to do is tell the kids about my experience.”
“We’re going to go over some of the things and talk about circumferences, talk about angles, talk about space. All of those things that we can incorporate and bring back to the kids and show them the things that I learned, that’ll work perfectly in the classroom, especially in P.E.”
Daren Heaton, the executive director of the Science of Sport, said his organization could unleash a tsunami of change in the way kids today view the connection between sports, science and math.
“The Science of Sport is a nonprofit that develops STEM curriculum using sports examples,” Heaton said. “We partner with the Dallas Mavericks to implement this initiative in 10 schools within the Dallas Independent School District.”
“The goal of the program is to provide teachers with resources that help them reinforce math and science topics into the classroom in an engaging and fun way.”
Blackman and Powell took the teachers through a myriad of basketball drills and explained along the way the science and math behind it.
“It’s a fantastic thing because teachers are just like kids, too,” Blackman said. “Some of them were a little bit nervous, and some of them were a little bit in situations where they were thinking they couldn’t do it.”
“Then you apply the science, you explain it to them and you try to make it fun. And with that you get an opportunity to have a group that’s having a great time focusing in on what needs to get accomplished.”
Erica Simon, a PE teacher at Harry Stone Montessori, said she definitely learned something functional that will impact her life.
“I realized upon listening to Mr. Blackman, that there’s a lot of technical stuff involved in basketball,” Simon said. “He spoke about the different angles and the speed and the velocity of the ball – students don’t really realize that that’s the science behind it.”
“The main thing is if you’re a technical person – to understand getting from one point to another, or getting the basketball from one place to another – it was interesting learning about separating yourself or identifying how much space you need in order to release the ball.”
The four-hour program took on a new meaning for Simon.
“It’s almost like a godsend because I’ve been a fan of the show Sports Science,” she said. “So I’ve imagined how can we get the science of any type of sport into the classrooms and how they show the trajectory, and how much force is used just showing the different visual guides on the screen so that the kids can see it.”
“So now what they’ve developed is something that we can take back and go, ‘Hey guys, you don’t realize it but these are some math and science teachings.’ “
Simon – and the other teachers – took a Science of Basketball kit back to their school that will help empower students who might be under-performing academically.
So how is the Science of Basketball properly conveyed to the students?
“Instead of explaining to them parabolas, let’s just talk about shooting 3-pointers,” Valerdi said. “And there’s a real application of a parabola.”
“The other way to do is to put professional athletes that they look up to in front of them, and they deliver the message. If Dwight is saying ‘You’ve got to learn your statistics and you’ve got to understand geometry to be a better basketball player,’ then the light bulb goes on.”
That (Science of Basketball) light bulb certainly went off in the eyes of Powell.
“I think that the whole concept of this program is to help kids realize that science, technology, engineering and math are a major part of everyday life,” Powell said. “Whether or not it’s clearly visible, it’s still there.”
“When it comes to the game of basketball – which is a simple game with a ball and a hoop and 10 guys – if broken down properly it can be broken down to a math problem and you can figure things out and you can make predictions and you can improve your skills and look back at statistics and wins and losses – there’s an endless amount of ways you can break down the game mathematically. So exposing kids to that can help them understand that math is really valuable and it can be used to better yourself and improve yourself, and it can be applied to a lot of different scenarios.”