Sports

Storm into S.T.E.M.

WNBA champions Seattle Storm led clinics that teach kids about the math and science behind excelling at their favorite sport—basketball.

How many dribbles does it take to get to the top of the Space Needle? How tall would you need to be to slam dunk on the moon? And how do you calculate the arc of the perfect shot? These were just some of questions that kids engaged with at recent basketball clinics held in Seattle led by WNBA team the Seattle Storm in partnership with Microsoft.

The goal was to show kids the many and surprising ways that STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) are relevant to their lives outside the classroom.

What we’re trying to do with bringing STEM and sports together is break down the preconceived notions that science is boring or math is hard.

Kelsey Deller, Partner Development Manager at Microsoft

For Alisha Valavanis, President and General Manager of the Seattle Storm, the two fields aren’t as different as people might think. “In a lot of ways, sports and STEM play in a similar space for youth,” she says. “They can seem intimidating, especially for young girls, and kids often feel like they have to make decisions early on to follow either a sports track or a STEM track. We’re excited to show how fun both these things can be and how connected they are. It’s not about making a choice between the two—it’s about encouraging kids to think about all the fun and exciting ways sports and science work together.”

The clinics, which took place around the Seattle area from June 14-21, used a series of activities to give kids hands-on training in STEM as it relates to basketball skills.

Girl jumps to test her vertical jump in front of screen measuring height
Two phones showing data visualization of number of dribbles it takes to get to the top of the space needle
Can you Dunk on the Moon?

One station put a STEM spin on the vertical jump test. Using Vernier Force Plates to test their vertical jump here on earth, kids then applied their math skills and understanding of gravity to find out how high they could jump on the moon—and whether that’s high enough for a slam dunk.

The Geometry of the Perfect Shot

This station illustrated how the shape of the hoop—and the probability of making the basket—changes with the angle of the shot. Kids then practiced this lesson on the court with the help of an app that showed them the arc of their shot in relation to the height of different animals.

Dribble to the top of the Space Needle

Finally, students were able to try out wrist sensors that can recognize dribbling. Teams raced to accumulate the greatest number of dribbles, with the distance of each dribble adding points to the team’s score—how many dribbles would it take their team to get to the top of the Space Needle? Thanks to Power BI dashboards, the kids were also able to see their individual rate of dribbles per minute.

According to Alysha Clark, forward for the Seattle Storm, applying technology to something so tangible helped the kids grasp concepts that can otherwise seem abstract. “Technology is something you can touch, you can feel. And it gives them that extra push to make that connection and say, ‘Hey, this does apply and I can really do this.”

Valavanis adds that the WNBA, a women’s sports league formed around creating opportunity and equality, inherently understands the challenges kids face when they lack access to or awareness of educational opportunities. “As many players and I know firsthand, sometimes just getting the ball—actually being given a chance to play—can open up new doors. Just having a chance to experience STEM or see all the exciting ways it relates to basketball can open up new ideas and introduce kids to opportunities they didn’t even know existed. We want to help youth imagine all the things they can be.”

The Seattle Storm shared highlights from these clinics at the Storm for S.T.E.M. game on July 10th.

Just having a chance to experience STEM or see all the exciting ways it relates to basketball can open up new ideas and introduce kids to opportunities they didn’t even know existed.

Alisha Valavanis, President and General Manager of the Seattle Storm