Little Shop of Physics helps Denver Broncos ‘tackle STEM’

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Throwing that perfect football spiral requires force, trajectory, torque – it’s physics (and practice, of course).

Which is one reason the Denver Broncos are trying to get kids as excited about physics as they might be about football. To do it, they’re tapping the expertise of a Colorado State University physics outreach program, Little Shop of Physics, to make physics fun and relatable to every day life, and football in particular.

The Denver Broncos, in collaboration with Arrow Electronics, launched a new education campaign titled “Tackle STEM” earlier this year. The goal: engaging and inspiring children to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

‘Kids are natural scientists’

Among the Broncos’ partners is CSU’s Little Shop of Physics, which specializes in fun, hands-on learning to get people of any age interested in physics and other sciences. Younger students are a special focus.

“Kids are natural scientists,” said Little Shop of Physics director Brian Jones. “Every day they learn about the world by experimenting and asking questions. The Little Shop of Physics allows students to explore and learn physics concepts on their own terms, in a fun and engaging way.”

Kicking off CSU’s involvement with Tackle STEM, Little Shop of Physics recently hosted two events that had more than 300 kids experimenting with and learning about football-themed physics.

Boys and Girls Club

On Oct. 27, Little Shop of Physics visited the Denver Broncos Boys and Girls Club. Celebrating a “mad science” theme in honor of Halloween, about 160 kids got treated to lessons on light, motion and other concepts.

The day included football-themed experiments, said Adam Pearlstein, assistant director of Little Shop of Physics. Among the activities was experimenting with altered foam footballs by adding and removing weight and adding fins. All of this affects the way the football spirals, which in turn affects how far it can travel through the air. Foam footballs were launched from an electric leaf blower, and the kids predicted how far they would travel.

“I was in awe of the quality of the experiments and the expertise and skills that the CSU staff and students displayed,” said Rich Barrows, Boys and Girls Club director. The students got to explore, among other things, a light room and a dark room, complete with glow-in-the-dark experiments.

Junior Cheerleaders

And on Nov. 21, the Denver Broncos Junior Cheerleaders — about 150 kids, mostly girls between the ages of 6 and 14 — spent the day with Little Shop of Physics at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium.

CSU and Little Shop of Physics are a natural fit for the Broncos’ Tackle STEM goals. “We’ve seen all the statistics projecting the numbers of STEM jobs that will go unfilled because the workforce will not posses the proper skills,” said Brady Kellogg, the Broncos’ vice president of corporate partnerships. “As members of this community and in support of our many partners dependent on this talent pipeline, we sensed an opportunity to do our small part.”

Much of that is facilitating learning experiences for kids, using the Broncos and football-related content as a hook. In the case of Little Shop of Physics, they found the perfect partner.

“They are incredibly creative and have found a niche in relating to students of all ages,” Kellogg said. “Looking ahead, if all goes well, there should be ample opportunity to build up on the groundwork set in place during this first year of collaboration, with more Little Shop of Physics-created, Broncos-themed activities and lessons, as well as Broncos-hosted events showcasing the entire portfolio of Little Shop of Physics work.”

Pearlstein added: “It was great working with the Denver Broncos and the Tackle STEM Program on our shared goal of getting children excited about science. We appreciated the opportunity to work with over 300 amazing kids; hopefully this is the beginning of a long-term partnership.”

CSU has strong ties with the Denver Broncos in other areas already. The Denver Broncos Sports Management Institute, launched earlier this year, is an exclusive partnership in which CSU students can earn a minor in sports management through hands-on opportunities and experiences with the Broncos organization.

Other Little Shop of Physics efforts

The Broncos’ Tackle STEM is just one of many outreach efforts by Little Shop of Physics. For example, over the last eight years, the group has visited every school on the 3,400-square-mile Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. In recognition of this, the last week in November was declared Little Shop of Physics week at the reservation, by Oglala Lakota Nation tribal proclamation.

Little Shop of Physics has many more activities planned this year, including an outreach program in Namibia next month, and a 25th-anniversary Open House on Feb. 27.