Here's the windup, the pitch, the vector and the Pythagorean theorem

2013-10-20T00:00:00Z 2013-10-20T23:15:50Z Here's the windup, the pitch, the vector and the Pythagorean theoremBy Drew McCullough Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 20, 2013 12:00 am  • 

There may be no crying in baseball, but there’s certainly math and science.

On a recent Friday morning, students at the Center for Academic Success, a charter school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in Sierra Vista, learned that Pythagoras might have played as big a role in baseball as Babe Ruth.

They began by learning the distances between the bases on a Major League Baseball field and mapping its geometry.

They found isosceles and right triangles, talked about the Pythagorean theorem and how it’s applied to the triangle formed by home plate, first base and second.

After the classroom portion of the lesson, the students went outside and took the field with Pythagoras to check the diagram they had just created.

As eighth-grader Ethan O’Dell and sixth-grader Mark Anthony Guerrero measured the distance between home plate and third, they realized the base path was shorter than on a major league field. Their teacher, Jarad Young, told them to compare the two and calculate the differences.

The exercise was part of the Science of Baseball Program, which was recently added to the school’s curriculum.

The program was created by Ricardo Valerdi, an associate professor of systems and industrial engineering at the University of Arizona.

Valerdi designed the program to get middle school students interested in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math by teaching various concepts through the lens of baseball.

“The idea,” Valerdi said, “is if you interact with the math, you begin to understand it much better.”

The program has reached about 2,000 kids and gained the attention of major league teams including the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Since creating the program last fall, Valerdi has developed a curriculum of eight lessons, all of which focus on the common core standards that middle school students must master for standardized tests.

It covers subjects such as geometry, measurement and data, ratios and proportional relationships, and statistics and probability.

The standards are taught in the classroom and in an outdoor, hands-on fashion.

Activities include measuring their strike zones and calculating the overall area, as well as calculating their reaction time and how it changes when they get into a batter’s stance.

Students launch baseballs at different angles with a water balloon launcher and calculate how far each travels to determine the optimal trajectory of a home run.

Last year the program was offered to students at Mansfeld Middle School on Saturdays as the Arizona Science of Baseball Program.

Thanks to a partnership with the Diamondbacks that started six months ago, it now includes a day camp at Salt River Field, the Diamondbacks’ spring training facility. It’s also got a new name — the Diamondbacks Science of Baseball Program.

Valerdi and the Diamondbacks have introduced a teacher-training program — a one-day course for middle school teachers on how to implement the lessons in their school’s curriculum.

Valerdi said the teachers “get motivated and they come away with excitement and hopefully they communicate that to their students.”

The program has now been implemented in more than 100 schools, Valerdi said.

Valerdi said he plans to expand the program. He’s in conversations with the Boston Red Sox, the San Diego Padres and the St. Louis Cardinals, he said.

He even has a friend in Australia who is interested in starting a Science of Cricket Program.

Valerdi enlists experts who work in fields related to the science of baseball.

Last year, the Mansfeld students learned about shoulder anatomy and biomechanics from Dan Latt, a UA assistant professor of orthopedic surgery and biomechanical engineering. They got a lesson on baseball scoring and statistics from Michael Guymon, the official scorer of the Tucson Padres.

They also heard from former major league catcher Gary Bennett.

Teachers at the Center for Academic Success say they have seen results.

Traci Tomlinson, lead teacher at the Sierra Vista school, said students “need a realistic connection for math and science principles rather than just having a teacher lecture at them.

“That’s why I thought this program would really fit,” she said. “There’s a reason why we do all of this stuff in the classroom — it’s really out there in the real world.”

Young, the dean of students and healthy lifestyles teacher at the school, said the program has been effective because “it makes kids feel less intimidated by STEM.”

The school has adapted the lessons to use in grades as low as kindergarten.

It’s beneficial to adapt the program for students that young because “as they move up through the grades and they are exposed to more of the lessons, it’s going to tie back to what they’ve already done,” Tomlinson said. “There’s going to be that connection there with them.”

According to eighth-grader O’Dell, the program helps students better learn and understand math and science because they “get into it.”

O’Dell said he believes that interacting with the math and science of baseball helps students grasp the more abstract concepts, such as the trajectory of a baseball’s flight.

Valerdi is expanding the program’s curriculum. “In the next year or two, our goal is to have close to 40 lessons,” — all tied to the common core standards, he said. “We’re literally hitting the bulls eye on each of them.”

He said he is also thinking of doing a Science of Basketball Program and possibly a Science of Football Program in the future.

Drew McCullough is a NASA Space Grant intern at the Arizona Daily Star.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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