Science of Basketball – 7/25/2014

Categories:  John Drazan

As part of my fellowship in the Triple Helix program, I traveled to Latham on Friday to work with the City Rocks youth skills development camp for kids ages 5 to 11. Two athlete volunteers from the 4th Family STEM program also participated. The purpose of the visit is to show how science can be used to measure, monitor and inform training for sports performance. The two volunteers were tested with the equipment to give the kids a “gold standard” of performance to compare themselves to. The students involved in the activity were participating in a week long basketball day camp making the 45 minute session was the only STEM programming in the entire week. This allows for a different population of students to be accessed in STEM outreach because attendance at the camp was not predicated on an interest in STEM.

The students were initially engaged by talking about  Ray Allen and Tim Duncan (Two very durable and old NBA all-stars whose work ethic in the off season is legendary) to discuss how off season training can help maintain elite performance. After a volunteer led a discussion on what happens to the body when you train, the students were asked “How can you monitor your gains in training?” The students responded with answers such as “Measure your sprinting speed” and “see how many pushups you can do”. The students were then asked to predict what would happen to those measurements before and after a training program. They predicted the scores would get better.

At this point, I informed the players that they had just created a testable hypothesis in the scientific method. By starting the conversation at a point of shared interest, the performance of NBA players, the students were drawn into an activity centered on using scientific equipment to measure sports performance. Next, I showed the students how to record electrical activity from their muscles using an EMG system from Vernier. Four students had EMG electrodes attached to their biceps and they watched the signal change when they flexed their muscles. The students got extremely excited and proceeded to have flexing contests to see who could generate the most signal.

I talked about my position as a scientific researcher in biomedical engineering and how I use these methods in my research. This led to a discussion on how EMG could be used in an experiment to analyze sports performance. Some examples include seeing what muscles are activated in a jump shot and how elite athletes use their muscles differently than non-athletes.

I then showed the students how to use a light sensor as a method to detect someone dribbling a ball. The students then designed the following experiment.

Recording players muscle activity using EMG electrodes!

Recording players muscle activity using EMG electrodes!

Players used the scientific method to investigate the differences between their dribbling ability with their right and left hands. 

Observation: I don’t dribble equally well with my right and left hands.

Hypothesis: I won’t be able to dribble as many times with my off hand as my primary hand in 4 seconds.

Experiment: The students used a light sensor to count how many dribbles they could get with their right and left hands in 4 seconds.

Results: The athletes dribbled and they saw that they were unable to dribble as many times with their off hand. It was also observed that the players who were obviously better ball handlers had less of a difference between their right and left hands.

Conclusion: It is necessary to train both hands equally to ensure that an athlete can go both right and left when attacking the basket. It is also useful to track progress to compare the effectiveness of training programs.


The module went over very well with the students. I stayed after to allow more kids to use the EMG. When  asked, students said that they could see how this would be useful as a method to measure gains in training programs. They asked if I was going to come back at the next camp so they could see how much better they had gotten.

I think the most interesting part of this module is its ability to reach populations of students who would not typically sign up for STEM programming. The prerequisite interest for student engagement in this module is not STEM, its basketball. This should allow for students who are typically outside the STEM pipeline to be reachable for outreach.

More on these forms of unrecognized educational capital in the next post.




Start of the Science of Athletic Performance Summer Program at Albany High

Categories:  John Drazan
Students are recording electrical activity from their muscles to learn how they recruit muscles in different patterns for different activities.

Students are recording electrical activity from their muscles to learn how they recruit muscles in different patterns for different activities.

This summer I will be providing 4 hours of STEM programming to high school students as part of the Summers Matter Academy at Albany High School. The program, called “The Science of Athletic Performance”,  is centered on using scientific methods and equipment to analyze sports performance. The students record their own muscle electrical activity using EMG electrodes, the force they generate when they jump using force plates, and how fast they can dribble a basketball using a photogate system. In this environment, students use the science as a tool to improve their own understanding of sports performance and training.


Students measure how fast they can dribble a basketball using a photogate system


Students use force plates to measure the force that they push off the ground with when jumping.

Students use force plates to measure the force that they push off the ground with when jumping.

Conference collaborates on Generative Justice

Categories:  News and Events
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The Generative Justice conference hosted by GK12 facilitated excitement and investment in the movement for generative justice! Thanks to all who attended, and especially to the conference speakers.

Links to conference presentations

Generative Justice wiki page

Related articles:

Knit, Purl, Compute: A Science Club Documentary

Categories:  Culturally Situated Design Tools, Michael Lachney, Science Club, Video
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During the 2013-2014 school year a group of students in the 3Helix 7A Science Club studied the ethnomathematics of Native American beading using the Virtual Bead Loom CSDT. Knowing that math extends beyond the classroom into other cultural crafts, students then intervened in a local knitting club to make visible that math and computing embedded in knitting and purling. This video is a result of their efforts.