Student participant in the Squash Urban Team Nationals in New York City, 2018.
Photo courtesy of the Squash + Education Alliance.
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What is more powerful than the focus of a trained athlete? STEM learning. What is one of the fastest growing fields in the sciences? Biotechnology.

Boston University’s SEPA project, “CityLab and Urban Squash: A New Pathway to Achieve STEM Success”, seeks to engage student-athletes in science by having students collect and analyze their own physiological and athletic performance data. In partnership with SquashBusters, a Boston-area urban squash education program, we have developed and piloted two curriculum modules—one focuses on heart rate and the cardiorespiratory systems and the other focuses on reaction time and the nervous system.

Middle school students were very interested in trying to understand the correlation between their perceived athletic effort during their practice games and their heart rate (HR). Students wore HR monitoring watches (Polar GoFit) while exercising to determine their HR as well as the amount of time during which their heart rate was in their target zone. These activities were done in conjunction with lessons on homeostasis, balance, reflexes and force generation. Based on survey data, the student athletes were very interested in looking at their data and connecting it to their perceived effort and found it worthwhile to wear the watches. These activities generated many STEM-related questions from the students about effort, human body performance and the accuracy of technology for personal health data acquisition. The students didn’t see a direct connection between their HR data analysis and improving their squash performance and this may have been related to the fact that SquashBusters training program doesn’t utilize HR training zones. The pilot test confirmed that students are engaged by collecting data about themselves and that students can generate questions that they can then investigate scientifically.

We are now developing a second module to collect student performance data that is more directly connected to squash training and performance. We are using the FitLight program that allows users to assess their reaction time to visual stimuli, since this skill is directly relevant to success in squash and provides an access point for discussions about the nervous system. In a second pilot test in spring 2018, we coupled the use of the FitLight system with lessons on data analysis to prepare students to think critically about data.

Our ultimate goal is to create curriculum modules that excite students to learn about the biomedical sciences, especially physiology and biochemistry, while also developing scientific habits of mind. We are studying whether this approach of using personally-relevant data, can increase student-athletes’ confidence in their ability to learn and do science and further encourage students to persist in the study of STEM fields.

Associated Project:
CityLab and Urban Squash: A New Pathway to Achieve STEM Success
Associated Institution:
Boston University School of Medicine
News Contact:
DeRosa, Donald A – EdD