Sport and STEM subjects

How can sport be used to promote specific learning objectives in an urban sport for development setting?

In 2017 MLSE LaunchPad and Visions of Science Network for Learning Inc. joined forces to co-develop Sport + STEM, a programme that teaches Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths concepts on the sport court through active engagement. Six months after the launch of Sport + STEM, the nearly 200 youth who have completed the programme demonstrate a statistically significant increase in comfort with STEM topics and are more likely to believe that they could have a career in a STEM field.

A place where youth facing barriers use sport to recognise and reach their potential, MLSE LaunchPad has operated in Toronto’s gritty Moss Park neighbourhood since February 2017. The facility offers free sport for development programming to youth aged six-29 in a freshly renovated 42,000 square foot space on the ground floor of a community housing complex. Offerings include sport plus programmes, where sport is the hook and primary activity with other outcomes being addressed secondarily, as well as plus sport programmes, where the hook is academic support, employment training or life skills development, and sport is used as a tool and context to further the primary objective. All programmes fall under one of four programme pillars: Healthy Body, Healthy Mind, Ready for School, and Ready for Work. Along with wrap-around services such as nutrition programmes, drop-in counselling and homework clubs, these programmes address Positive Youth Development comprehensively.

Intended outcomes attached to each of the four programme pillars are identified in the MLSE LaunchPad Theory of Change, including increased academic engagement and attainment under the Ready for School pillar. As such, programmes to support youth in realising their full academic potential were offered in MLSE LaunchPad’s first year of operation. However, the design of these programmes relied on the existing evidence linking sport participation to increased life skills and academic attainment and did not promote specific learning objectives connecting physical and academic learning. The Sport + STEM programme breaks new ground by addressing barriers to STEM engagement through an exciting curriculum that uses sport to teach concepts in ecosystems, block chain coding, design thinking and geometry. One of MLSE’s four core sports – basketball, hockey, soccer, and football – is linked to each of the four academic concepts. Unlike many sport/STEM programmes, the entire curriculum is active and delivered on court – by coaches. Sport is the actual context through which critical thinking and comfort with STEM subjects is developed.

Early results are positive. 89% of participants stated that it was easier to learn new concepts through sport than in a classroom. The soccer/biology module was most impactful, with 94% of participants reporting that the soccer activities helped them to better understand ecosystems. And the percentage of participants comfortable with each STEM concept doubled from pre- to post-programme evaluation. As the school year ends in June 2019, key learnings will be synthesised and shared with the sector to power the ongoing development of this promising approach.