Using sport to teach science: interactive exhibits, Teachers TV and maths in sport

We have known for quite some time here at Sheffield Hallam University the value of using sport to teach science.  Sport is ideal for grabbing people’s attention and getting them interested in science, engineering and technology. We often do public lectures which are always packed out by people interested in sport who also want to know more about the science.  We explain complex scientific problems and the hard bit is usually trying to stop the questions at the end. If you’re thinking about using sport to teach science (especially as the Olympics approaches) then here are some resources that might float your boat.


Sports Lab: our very own interactive exhibit in Sheffield’s Weston Park Museum on the science behind the medals.


Sports Lab is suited to all ages. Visitors can enter a virtual bike race, strut their moves on a ‘smart’ dance floor, test their reaction times and check out some really interesting sports equipment among others activities. Well on track to get around a quarter of a million visitors during 2011, it will be off down to London’s V&A in 2012 to celebrate the Olympics. A recent visitor was Howard Webb famous for refereeing the 2010 World Cup final in South Africa.

Howard Webb at Sports Lab.


Biomechanics.  A 5 minute video on the fascinating and complex subject of biomechanics (from Teachers TV). In the video Prof. Steve Haake explains the tools used by scientists when analysing athletes movements. Steve examines the biomechanics of a soccer kick and golf swing using a state-of-the-art motion capture suite and high-speed video cameras.

Product testing.  A 5 minute video on sports product testing (from Teachers TV). Steve explains how sports products, such as the much criticised Jabulani soccer ball, are designed and tested. There is a description of how the soccer ball is made and high-speed video showing the ball compressing during a kick. Steve also explains how golf clubs are specially designed to make the ball spin and travel further.

Lastly, if you haven’t come across it, +Plus Magazine is a fantastic online resource with a special section on Mathematics in Sport


About stevehaake

Steve did a first degree in Physics at the University of Leeds before landing two job offers: the first with BT turned out to be in a porta-cabin in the middle of a marsh, while the second was supposed to be image processing but was really smart-bomb design. This left a third option – a PhD in the mechanics of golf ball impacts on golf greens for a person who’d never hit a golf ball. It was a simple choice (the PhD if you didn’t guess) which led 25 years later to being head of a research team of 30-40 looking into similarly unlikely topics. Highlights of the career so far? The early years setting up the ISEA with the likes of Steve Mather, Ron Thompson, Clive Grant and Ron Morgan; the fact that the 1st International Conference on Sports Engineering in Sheffield in 1996 didn’t also turn out to be the last; and getting out the first issue of the first journal on Sports Engineering in 1998. The absolute high point, though, was being in the British Club in Singapore as a guest of the High Commission when the bid for the 2012 Olympics was announced. This has led to the team delivering projects with Olympic athletes that every scientist with a love of sport can only dream of. Steve is now a Senior Media Fellow funded by the EPSRC to encourage the public to engage in science, particularly in the lead up to the London 2012 Olympic Games.

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