Learning the Physics of Skateboarding Engages Kids in Science (Transcript)
Dr Skateboard: A skateboarder in a skate park is actively analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating their environment. You're working with simple machines and a compound machine, like a skateboard. You're looking at angles and the geometry of a skate park, making small adjustments built on trial and error. I think that's something that scientists and skateboarders have in common. They look at the word a little differently, and through a lens of their discipline.
Dr Skateboard: Okay, so the idea here is, you know, you're going to be riding in the bowl, and you're going to be kind of working between sort of unbalanced forces and balanced forces.
Dr Skateboard: My name is Bill Robertson, I'm an Associate Professor at the University of Texas at El Paso. I have a background in History, Biology, Spanish and in the Specialization and Science Education.
Dr Skateboard: Yeah! All right!
Dr Skateboard: I've been a skateboarder since I was 13-years-old. It's part of who I am. It's how I see the world. It's my passion.
Dr Skateboard: You were cruising around pretty fast, and then you went up the, in the invert. So like how do you think you moved from like balanced forces to unbalanced forces? How did you stall it like that?
Student: It's all about motion. You go with the flow, like...
Dr Skateboard: One of my skateboarding buddies, when I told him I was getting my PhD and I was going to become a doctor, he said, "Dude, I don't know anybody with a PhD." And that's when I started thinking about Dr. Skateboard, you know, putting what I learned and skateboarding together with my goals in education. So what kinds of kids do you encounter at a skate park? Well, they're typically people who really enjoy the sport. They're inherently creative. They're daring. And for the most part, they are dissatisfied with their learning in school. Where does learning really occur? Learning takes place when people go to areas of high risk and high ambiguity. And so if you think about your own learning, you know, if you go do something that you've memorized, or something that's not really that challenging, you're not really learning a whole lot. But when you learn something, there's usually something you're laying on the line. For young people, the risk sometimes is, "Am I going to be embarrassed in front of my classmates?" You're really going to do tricks that are risky, and in some ways, they take you to places you've never been. The ambiguity part is something that it's unknown. "What's going to happen here?" And that's where learning occurs.
Dr Skateboard: Sweet, man! So, the one trick that caught my eye in there, there was a bunch of them, you know, but one was doing the blunt, like where you go up and you kind of balance on the tail, and then you pop it back in.
Dr Skateboard: But how do you make that trick?
Student: You got to compress your knees to drive that force back to slow yourself down so you have enough speed just to get-- just enough just to get up and stall.
Dr Skateboard: Skateboarders really do see the world differently. They're always looking at their world as something to skate. And so it's a matter of seeing not only the physics behind it, but analyzing, synthesizing, evaluating and creativity. The upper part of Bloom's Taxonomy.
Dr Skateboard: Big front-side air. So Diego? Let me ask you, so what do you need to do to make that front-side air, you think?
Diego: I made a false start.
Dr Skateboard: They are looking at their environment in ways that they're dealing with speed, momentum, velocity, acceleration. They're talking about motion.
Student: It's motion inertia, then just inertia where you're just sitting.
Dr Skateboard: Yeah.
Student: And with motion inertia, it's like cranking a little toy. You do it the faster you can, the more speed you get. The slower you do it, that's like you're not going to get that much speed.
Dr Skateboard: So you kind of create speed and force just out of gravity, really.
Student: Yeah, that's all it is, man. That and good times. That and good times, man.
Dr Skateboard: That's for sure.
Student: All right, cool!
Dr Skateboard: They're, in many ways, embodying these principles of flight. You know, lift, gravity, thrust and drag being used. But they're not thinking about it in those terms.
Dr Skateboard: The park is sort of like your laboratory. You're using all this science. 'Cause you make some subtle adjustments to make sure tricks happen, you know?
Student: Yeah, like it's just one little thing that will make the trick different. You put your foot a little bit to the left, you're not going to land it. One inch to the right, you'll land it perfectly.
Dr Skateboard: Yeah.
Student: It's more like how precise it is. You have to be really kind of precise with skateboarding.
Dr Skateboard: So one of the things we talk about with that is like it's very kinetic, but at the mid-point, it kind of pauses, and so it has that...
Student: It's like potential, and then as I make the movement, kinetic, and then potential at that one split second that I stop the board in mid-air, and then becomes kinetic again, whenever I flick it back.
Dr Skateboard: I think by knowing the term, and by know what they're trying to do, they can actually help themselves learn more, because they can find a practical application in their own lives. You really are in some ways living out sort of a scientific method. You're thinking of a hypothesis. Some trick you want to learn. You're looking at your environment, seeing, "Where can I best do this?" So you're analyzing what you're going to do. You're going to go through some trials. You're going to collect some data. And then you're going to kind of have an outcome. Did I figure it out? Did I not do it? What do I need to do to change? Skate parks become their classroom, and it become their field-based environment, where they can achieve success in learning. My mission has always been that people will see something in skateboarding, and understand that there's a certain amount of mastery that goes on in here. And mastery, to me, is one of the most important characteristics in having success in anything. You know, if you can master something, you can probably master something else. I'm trying to reach out to the kid who's maybe not that interested in school. Who's maybe a bit marginalized. And we're trying to find pathways for those people to learning. Skateboarding is something that I think we always look at sort of a youth fad that you pass through. But one thing I found out is, you know, skateboarding is here to stay. And I think if we can tap into what kids like to do, and help them to make connections to their learning. And that we can carefully guide them, and caringly guide them through this process, they can really achieve success.