STEM Lessons from the Olympics


images-1Watching the Olympic events coverage?  It is a ritual for many to celebrate excellence in sport, and at the same time, unite people from all over the world in the pursuit of Olympic excellence. The idea is to bring people together, young people, in harmony with the ideal of what we have in common rather than how we are different. We learn tolerance and understand other cultures through events such as the Olympics. It is a place for no discrimination, or at least is envisioned as such. This year, 2014, brought the spotlight on some differences rather than overlooking them.  The values of fair play, camaraderie, respect, and peace are the goal. Young Olympians model hard work, grit and excellence.  These values and the Olympic ideals have other applications as well. Not only can one learn so many lessons from these events, but also complex issues for student discussion can happen. The benefit of hard work, determination, failure and risk taking, learning from failure, and how to achieve goals are valuable lessons to learn. Students around the world can use the concepts of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) through exploration of Olympic sport and the many things related to these world events. There are opening ceremonies with music, dance and spectacle. Costumes. Drama. There are human emotions to understand and explore. Sports equipment and clothing are constantly becoming more sophisticated. There are opportunities for many STEM related careers if one loves sports and athletic endeavors.   images-2

Having been a musician, I relate its similarities to that of other disciplines. I see the similarities to the deliberate practice needed to become a great musician or dancer as very similar to that of becoming an Olympic athlete.  Your sport or art becomes your life. Everything you do affects performance. In music, study and development is daily and continuous. One can always get better. Holidays or time away from your craft are rare. This pursuit is one of passion and love. Those attributes drive a young person to excel.  It is obviously a complicated mix of needed talents, but for the purpose of connecting the Olympics to STEM education, I focus on where they overlap. A student may not have the ability to excel at sport or music or dance, but may have the ability to contribute in these professions through excelling in STEM subjects.

What a great opportunity to learn real world math, science and engineering!

  • Do you know the physics of slopestyle skiing?
  • How do you design a snowboarding halfpipe course?
  • What makes the best suit design and material for speed skating?
  • What are the properties of ice?
  • Engineer bobsleds and skis.  What makes a successful design?
  • Study injury, recovery, and ultimate physical performance condition.
  • The physics of ice skating.
  • Can robots help in physical training and activity?
  • The science and engineering behind skate design and hockey.
  • Movement-Motion in Olympic sports.

There are many questions students can ask themselves as they experience vicariously these Olympic activities and apply those lesson to things in which they participate. Real world activities translate to real world learning and affect the creativity and understanding students have. Do research, gain knowledge and APPLY it. Find what you love and dig deep through STEM learning.

The NSF in partnership with NBC Learn have released these lessons influenced and motivated by the 2014 Soshi Winter Olympic Games (click to discover lessons): SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING OF THE SOSHI WINTER GAMES 2014

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Categories: 21st Century Education, Common Core Standards, critical thinking, Education reform, Engineering science and sports, experiential learning, Olymics 2014, science and engineering, STEAM, STEM education, technology, Uncategorized

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