To inspire my 5-year-old grandson’s interest and ability in STEM, I watch basketball with him on TV.
Basketball is a wonderful sport for teaching the basics of numbers, and numbers are key for STEM. The score changes every 45 seconds or so and that builds an understanding and confidence with numbers. “The Warriors have a score of 86. The Rockets have 90. How far behind are the Warriors?” That’s what I ask in the midst of the game, and he quickly works out the answer. Sometimes I pause the game (using the instant pause of DirecTV) until he works out the answer. If the score is 76 to 96, I suggest he count by 10s. If the score is 75 to 96, I still have him count by 10s and then add one. He loves this.
A few days ago I said, “It looks like there are a hundred birds on our feeder.” No, he said, not nearly that many. That’s when I realized he had a good sense of the number 100; he had seen it many times in basketball games, and he knew how big it is.
I point out how it is really important to be smart. If Steph Curry sees that he is guarded by two players, then he knows that someone on his team is not guarded; he looks for that person and passes it to him. This emphasizes the importance of being smart.
I taught him how to count by 10s. Doing that helped him figure out how far ahead a team is. Then I asked him to count by 5s. He did it, on the first try! “5 10 15 20 25 30 …. 75.” I stopped him at 75 because that is my age today, my birthday.
The importance of math to STEM is clear. He is already on the fast track. He is very comfortable with numbers, and understands addition, subtraction, and a bit of multiplication. (He starts kindergarten in September.) That will help him get going in science, in engineering, in technology. Math is the basis for all this.
He recognizes the importance of being smart. And he feels that he is smart. Those are key attitudes to instill at a young age. The basis of STEM is thinking about things, not just accepting, not just memorizing, but analyzing them, usually with numbers. Stephen Curry is smart. My grandson believes that Draymond Green is the smartest player in basketball. I’ll often stop the video and replay it when Draymond has done something especially clever, so he can fully appreciate it. Draymond is great, even though he rarely scores more than 10 points in a game.
In these features, basketball seems to be far better than any other sport. Just the fact that the score keeps changing helps the math tutoring. In other sports, the score changes too slowly. And the teamwork is fantastic. I am a deep believer that excellent work in STEM requires teamwork, and no sport illustrates this better than does basketball.