Making the Playground a STEM Classroom


Making the Playground a STEM Classroom

At Assist Programs, we are convinced that a healthy, active lifestyle is essential to optimize learning. From the acute post-exercise cognitive boost to being better able to regulate emotions, the results supporting this are in. This is why the foundation of our program remains providing a safe, fun and inclusive environment for all students to join in active and engaged play!

There is another opportunity within an enhanced recess or after school program—disguised STEM lessons in the context of movement, sports, and play! Let’s explore how we can turn playground sports into a fun and effective way to teach STEM concepts, making every game a learning opportunity.

For each of these popular playground sports, I will point out some of the physics at play. Recognizing that learning must be scaffolded for students at different levels of understanding, I will give examples of the why and how to make these lessons relevant and engaging to an average 3rd and 6th grader.


Teaching Strategies, in general:

For 3rd graders, use simple language and tangible comparisons. Incorporate hands-on activities where they can physically experience the concepts, like changing how they throw a ball to see different effects.

For 6th graders, introduce more technical vocabulary and the basic laws of physics that apply. Engage them in experiments that require observation and hypothesis testing, like measuring distances of different types of throws or kicks.


Football: Understanding Aerodynamics and Angles

Knowing how aerodynamics work helps students understand why a spiraled football travels farther and more accurately. By learning about the optimal angles for throwing, students can adjust their technique to maximize distance and accuracy, making their passes more effective.

For a 3rd grader, explain that throwing the ball in a spiral makes it go farther because it cuts through the air better, like a bird spreading its wings to fly.

Vocabulary to introduce (try to do this in a seamless way, not interrupting gameplay)

-Spiral: A football’s spin in the air, which helps it go farther and straighter.
-Force: The push or pull that is used to throw the ball.
-Angle: The tilt or direction the ball is thrown, which affects how far and where it goes.

For a 6th grader, discuss the angles of throwing for maximum distance and how air resistance affects the ball’s flight. On average, the best angle to throw a football for distance is 45 degrees.

Vocabulary to introduce:

-Aerodynamics: The study of how air moves around objects, like a spiraling football.
-Trajectory: The path that the football follows after it has been thrown.
-Resistance: The force that slows down the football as it moves through the air (air resistance).


Basketball: Forces and Energy Transfer

Understanding the forces involved in bouncing and shooting a basketball can help students improve their dribbling and shooting skills. For example, knowing how applying force affects the ball’s bounce back can lead to more controlled dribbling. Additionally, understanding the energy transfer when shooting can help students adjust their force and angle to make more baskets.

For 3rd graders, describe how pushing the ball down makes it bounce back up because of the air inside it.

Vocabulary to introduce:

-Bounce: The action of the basketball hitting the ground and coming back up.
-Energy: What is needed to move or stop the basketball.
-Direction: The path along which the basketball moves when passed or shot.

For 6th graders, delve into Newton’s Third Law and the conservation of energy, explaining how energy is transferred from the player to the ball.

Vocabulary to introduce:

-Newton’s Third Law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, related to how the ball bounces back up when dribbled.
-Momentum: The force or speed the basketball has when moving.
-Elasticity: The ability of the basketball to return to its original shape after being pressed or squished, affecting how it bounces.


Soccer: Momentum, Geometry, and Force

Learning about momentum and force helps students understand how the speed and direction of the soccer ball change with different kicks. This knowledge can improve their passing and shooting accuracy. Understanding the geometry of the field and angles for passing can also enhance team play and strategy, making students more effective players.

For 3rd graders, talk about how hitting the ball with different parts of your foot changes its speed and direction.

Vocabulary to introduce:

-Transfer: Using force from your foot to move the soccer ball.
-Speed: How fast the soccer ball moves after being kicked.
-Path: The line along which the soccer ball moves on the field.

For 6th graders, discuss the geometry of passing angles and how force affects the ball’s speed and trajectory.

Vocabulary to introduce:

-Vector: A quantity that has both magnitude and direction, used to describe the movement of the soccer ball.
-Angular Velocity: The speed of rotation of the soccer ball when it is kicked in a way that makes it spin (bend it like Beckham!)
-Friction: The force that slows down the soccer ball as it rolls across the ground.

Are you ready to make your playground an extension of STEM education?

By turning daily recess, lunch breaks and after school time into a disguised learning opportunity, we not only make STEM learning more engaging but also provide practical ways for students to improve in their favorite sports. This dual benefit enhances physical education and brings to life the real-world applications of STEM concepts, showing students the value of what they learn beyond the classroom walls.

Contact us today! We can’t wait to show you how academics and active play work hand-in-hand.