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This Is Science? PE Meets STEM at Corbett Prep

Taking STEM education out of the lab shows students that innovation and scientific concepts are everywhere.

STEM education

Coach Chip Hill looks over a simple machine students built in a STEM education challenge in PE.

Oct. 8, 2015 (TAMPA, Fla.) – Beach balls, soccer balls and foam baseballs sat next to tees, plastic bats and hockey sticks in the gym, as Upper Primary students considered which pairings would send a ball the farthest.

Hit the beach ball or soccer ball with a hockey stick? Balance a baseball on a tee or throw it?

Corbett Prep science teacher John Palmer had shown first and second graders a pile of sports equipment when they entered physical education class and challenged them to see what happened when they matched different tools with different balls. Through a little trial and error and lots of creativity, the students would discover which methods succeeded or which ones needed changes.

“This is science?” one second grader asked with surprise.

Science and sports go hand in hand. Physical education classes teach students about health, fitness, and sports and get students moving during the school day. But PE classes also provide unique opportunities for collaboration in STEM education at Corbett Preparatory School of IDS.

Palmer worked with the physical education team to develop science lessons for Upper Primary and Middle School that were both active and STEM-focused. Students collaborated in small groups to explore the question of how to move a ball efficiently and effectively. Younger students experimented with sporting equipment they had on hand, while Middle School students took the challenge further by building contraptions to throw the balls.

Middle School students received material bundles containing two PVC pipes, three feet of string, a sheet of paper and eight inches of duct tape. In small groups, they brainstormed ways to use the materials to build a type of lever that would propel a ball farther than they could throw it. They tested creations such as slingshots and bats, modifying and sometimes completely changing designs.

After several practice rounds, teachers gave the students one opportunity to demonstrate their invention to see if they could surpass the distance they achieved when they had thrown a ball by hand. Many teams discovered the simple machines they had built helped them nearly double the distance the ball flew. Other teams stepped back to discuss what they could change to be more successful.

STEM education

Teacher John Palmer works with an Upper Primary student to test if a bat will move a beach ball the farthest.

Regardless of the results, all the teams enjoyed the activity and learning about simple machines, levers and the relationship between distance and speed, said Corbett Prep Athletic Director Rob Heller.

The process also helped inspire discussions of the role science plays in sports. The way a pitcher sends a baseball over home plate, a surfer’s ability to balance on a surfboard or how a hockey player accelerates and stops on slippery ice all start with science. Experiments in physical education take STEM education out of the lab and show students that innovation and scientific concepts belong everywhere.


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Founded in 1968, Corbett Preparatory School of IDS (formerly Independent Day School - Corbett Campus) is a fully accredited, nonsectarian private school located in Tampa’s Carrollwood neighborhood. The school serves over 500 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade and offers the International Baccalaureate program of study for all students. Teachers are endorsed in gifted education through a master’s level grant with the University of South Florida College of Education. Corbett Prep balances a dynamic, nurturing and safe learning environment with high standards and high expectations to develop a positive approach to life and learning. Corbett Prep has become recognized as an exemplary school with over 7,000 visitors observing and learning from Corbett Prep teachers. For more information, visit www.corbettprep.com or contact the Admissions Office at (813) 961-3087.