Otterbein’s STEM in Sports Brings Virtual Field Trips to Children

Posted Dec 11, 2020

An Otterbein professor and two students spent fall semester working on a video series of virtual field trips to make STEM fun for a nationwide audience of children — and to make up for canceled school field trips during the pandemic.

Michael Hudoba
Michael Hudoba, Assistant Professor, Engineering

As a doctorate student in 2013, Otterbein University Assistant Professor of Engineering Mike Hudoba was hired by United Skates of America to help develop Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) lectures for elementary- and middle-school field trips to the skating rink. This provided Hudoba with a unique opportunity to connect kids to science and how it applies to everyday life. He developed 18 different presentation topics with both lecture and hands-on learning components. Eventually the presentations were being shown nationwide to over 400,000 students.

“The United Skates STEM program continued to be a success — that is, until the COVID-19 pandemic hit America and schools began to shut down and field trips put on hold,” Hudoba said. “Out of that challenge we had the idea of student-to-student virtual delivery of STEM content.”

Drawing inspiration from current United Skates STEM program lessons and the TV show “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” Hudoba began the task of determining what made those programs so successful with young students. He knew the content had to be entertaining and fun, as well as approachable. Thus, “STEM in Sports” was created.

Hudoba saw the project as a way to give Otterbein students a unique opportunity to display the quality of the university’s STEM programs to thousands of young kids with a burgeoning interest in science. Kevin Collins, a senior systems engineering major, and Zane Ronau, a senior physics major, were nominated by faculty as two students who could help in brainstorming and presenting the content needed for the virtual fieldtrips.

“It was a great experience for me learning how to apply my systems engineering knowledge in a dozen different ways,” said Collins. “I learned so much about myself. It wasn’t always easy, but it was fun and incredibly rewarding.” 

Collins and Ronau reviewed videos from Hudoba’s live presentations and saw ways to interact with kids and what teaching methods worked best. They began developing video segments explaining topics such as types of force, energy, friction, and Newton’s Laws of Motion. The duo would also rely on repetition of key content but present them in new ways each time. This teaching technique would help the material resonate with each student at least once. These videos put both Collins and Ronau in the spotlight, shooting skits with a sports twist to demonstrate that day’s topic. 

“At one-point, Kevin and I were both in full football pads out on Cardinal Memorial Stadium’s turf. I took a running head start and tackled Kevin who was standing still. We then explained why I continued to move forward and why he went backwards,” said Ronau. “Later in the field trips, we would reference past skits like this one to help with recall and connections to everyday life.” 

The production team who assisted with the video shoots, and United Skates of America are currently editing the hours of footage shot with the Otterbein team. They are hoping to wrap up editing and send the videos out to students across the country beginning spring semester.  

An effective STEM program for young students, according to Hudoba, is not just about the quality of the content, but in the entertainment and excitement of the delivery. Giving kids the chance to have a fun field trip virtually helps create some normalcy and fun during a different kind of school year.  

Ronau says it wasn’t all for the audience, though. “We really had to think deeply on how to express our knowledge to an audience we’re not used to interacting with. We both learned a lot on how to teach and present ourselves.”