Visit of “The Science of Athletic Performance” program to RPI

Categories:  John Drazan

The Science of Athletic Performance culminated with a visit of the students to the RPI campus where they presented their hard work to a panel of experts in the sports science field. The panel consisted of two biomedical engineering professors from Union and RPI, a sports chiropractor and the head strength and conditioning coach for the Olympic training center at Lake Placid.

Are you faster than an Olympic speed skater?

Categories:  John Drazan

Prove it! With science.

Students in Albany High's summer program tested their athletic endurance against Olympic speed skater Trevor Marsicano.

Students in Albany High’s summer program tested their athletic endurance against Olympic speed skater Trevor Marsicano.

This summer GK12 fellow John Drazan introduced STEM programming to Albany High School students as part of the Summers Matter Academy. The program, called “The Science of Athletic Performance”,  was centered on using scientific methods to analyze sports performance. The students recorded 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.


Translating “Communities of Practice” From Craft Villages to Classrooms

Categories:  Bill Babbitt, Community Organizations, Culturally Situated Design Tools, Ghana-Hackett Connection, Michael Lachney
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“Communities of practice” (CoP) is a popular concept in the humanities and social sciences. First introduced by Lave and Wenger (1991), it describes forms of apprenticeship in which members of a community, with varying skill levels, have a common interest or goal. It is common to associate communities of practice with both skill sharing and community building .

As part of the 3Helix research on Culturally Situated Design Tools (CSDTs) ethnomathamatians and ethnocomputer scientists engage CoP in the kente craft village of Bonwire and adinkra craft village of Ntonso to learn what algorithms are embedded in the designs and practices of these traditional arts. The notion of “embedded” refers to the design practices that extend cognition between individual, community, tools, and materials. For example, the carving of the Sankofa Adinkra stamp requires intimate knowledge of where to begin and end the log spiral that makes up the birds neck in relationship to the available surface area and width of the carving tools. The development of these skills are situated in the craft villages themselves, learned across generations.


Translating this knowledge from the craft design to the design of CSDTs for classroom use is no easy task. Hours are spent developing codelets or blocks that try to simulate the math and computational affordances of the local craft. This process is never pure, never 1:1. There are always compromises to the situated practices of the craft that must be made during the software design process. For example, the Kente Computing software has students use all four quadrants of the Cartesian plane to design kente patterns. However, from a weaving point of view only one quadrant is required.

While much of the research and development process is spent on working through these translation issues, another challenge, one that goes often unnoticed during R&D, is the translation of situated CoP into the classroom implementation of CSDTs. Specifically, where in the design, development, and implementation of CSDTs should  these considerations of translating CoP from craft villages to classrooms begin? While this is a question to be debated across the social worlds of collaborating crafts people, ethnographers, computer scientists, and teachers, I have a few observations about what these translations of CoP may look like to begin the discussion.

During the summer of 2014, I had a chance to study how  CoP that surround passing Adinkra carving and stamping knowledge from old to young can be translated into the best practices of implementing  CSDT Adinkra Computing lessons into Ghanaian junior high school classrooms.  Working side-by-side with both junior high school ICT teachers and Adinkra craftsmen provided me with an opportunity to compare and contrast how knowledge in each setting is scaffolded; where do novices begin, where are they expected to go?

Interestingly enough, the process of stamping is an appropriate starting point for both people learning the Adinkra  craft and ICT students learning basic computing through the computational significance of Adinkra. While there are many steps and sub-steps to the production of Adinkra stamped cloth (making the ink, carving the stamp, weaving the cloth, stamping the cloth, etc.), I learned that one of the best places for Adinkra craft novices to begin with is learning to stamp. Stamping  requires a steady hand and spatial knowledge to appropriately vary stamps across the cloth. These skills are important for any person hoping to sell or use Adinkra for personal reasons; the right aesthetics is important for meeting the demand of using Adinkra for ceremonial purposes. In other words, the way the stamp looks on the cloth is an extremely important  part of Adinkra since it is the part that people will notice when looking at the final product.

Adinkra Computing simulates two main stages of the Adinkra production process: carving stamps and stamping. While carving stamps lends itself more to teaching/learning mathematics, stamping is suited well for learning computing in a  visual programming environment due to the affordences of looping (repetitive use of stamps) and storage (of the carved stamp itself) in the production process. This can be translated into Adinkra Computing activities in ways that make sense for novices of CSnap (the visual programming environment used in Adinkra Computing activities). More importantly, beginning with stamping can be translated into introductory ICT lessons for 7th year students in Ghanaian junior high schools.

unnamedOne ICT teacher suggested that mapping the Adinkra Computing CSDT on to the official curriculum makes most sense when students are first introduced to using computers via the program Paint. Paint helps students learn the basics of  controlling the curser, navigating menus, and artistic production. Learning to stamp Adinkra symboles using the Adinkra Computing CSDT also includes these features, as students navigate through menus of rule and function blocks, drag and snap blocks together, and input values all for the sake of Adinkra design.

Adinkra Computing deepens  computational engagement through requiring students to stamp various combinations of symbols using the complex computational processes of looping specific symbols and the storage of those symbols as costumes (costumes is the term used for any image that is stored within a CSnap project). This suggests that unlike Paint, the CSnap software is designed for computational teaching/learning. However, this also highlights the computational thinking embedded in the Adinkra CoP itself. In Paint students could certainly create similar Adinkra designs, but the knowledge required to scaffold those designs is  computationally less significant. Therefore, beginning to learn about computing and computers using the stamping process in Adinkra Computing is better than Paint in translating the algorithmic complexity found in the CoP context of stamping cloth.

While materially and contextually different, the epistemological beginnings of stamping in both Adinkra and computing provides an exemplar for how CoP found in Ghanaian craft villages can be translated into Ghanaian classrooms. Though, this is just one example that fills up only a small portion of the overall ICT curriculum. More research on the CoP in Bonwire and Ntonso are needed to develop a full understanding of how to translate CoP from craft villages to classrooms.

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.