STEM in Football: The Science Behind the Stadium

Image of Lindsey Nickerson from Eaton Middle School Lindsey Nickerson, science teacher at Eaton Middle School and one of SSEC’s Colorado LASER site coordinators, was selected as the Denver Broncos Tackle STEM Coach of the month for January. This award provided an opportunity of a lifetime: a STEM-based tour of the Broncos’ stadium for her and her students. After nominating Lindsey for this award, I was thrilled to be included as a chaperone on the trip to the stadium.

Nearly 50 Eaton Middle School students embarked on a journey behind the scenes of Sports Authority Field at Mile High, home of the world champion Denver Broncos. This was no ordinary field trip. Arriving at the field, students expected to see STEM in action, and they were not disappointed. 

Students learned from Denver Broncos staff about how science, technology, engineering, and math are all a part of making a football game fun and exciting. 

Professionals who design graphics for the Jumbotron explained how algebra, geometry, and physics are an integral part of making it work. The staff has to consider how the images will move along the x, y, and z axes, to which these middle school students quickly replied, “Z?” Their response was a gratifying indication that they were taking it all in, absorbing, and comprehending the importance of a STEM education.

One of the highlights of the day was a hands-on opportunity to take over the control room. Students selected the audio and video output and were given opportunities to view their selections on the Jumbotron. From rolling back tape for instant replay, to creating graphics, to selecting images and video, these students were inspired by those who work in these STEM fields.

Image of students in the control room at the Denver Broncos Stadium

But the real-world connections were not just aspirational long-term goals for students. One computer graphic designer provided a connection to LEGO, something many students already use, through information on creating a LEGO football game using several programs that are free. He encouraged students to download them and teach themselves how to use the programs. As we walked away, I overheard one student comment, “I think I could do that!”

Image of a LEGO football game

Visiting locker rooms revealed the medical side of the stadium. They have a freezer room, a closet so cold that players can only stay in it for up to 30 seconds and their fingers and toes have to be taped before entry to prevent frostbite. Why would anyone want to use that? There are physical benefits such as reduced aches and pains and speeding the healing process of injuries. 

The design of the visitors’ locker room provided insight into the strategic psychological aspect of the game. The room is structurally designed with a divider to create a lack of unity. The carpet is covered in dots that make you dizzy if you look at them too long. The wall right outside the locker room proudly displays the statement reminding the opposing team they are 5,280 feet above sea level. 

Image of a sign showing the elevation of the city of Denver

Sitting in the stadium, the information technology department identified the locations of several antennae and Wi-Fi access points throughout the stadium. This summer more wireless providers will install the technology to expand their service to the stadium, thereby providing more fans with the ability to tweet, post to Facebook and Instagram, watch video, check fantasy stats, and browse the Internet inside the stadium. This can be challenging when nearly 77,000 fans are all trying to access the Wi-Fi. The students agreed being able to access Wi-Fi is a necessity.

Image of students receiving a tour of the Denver Broncos Stadium

As a chaperone, I was astonished at the amount of STEM careers and applications working behind the scenes of the stadium. Field trips such as these provide students a view of the exciting possibilities that exist for them if they decide to follow a STEM career path. This amazing opportunity was provided for these students through collaboration between Arrow Electronics, The Denver Broncos, and the Colorado Technology Association.  

Image of students that were able to tour the Denver Broncos Stadium

About the Author

Tamara McDonald

Tami McDonald is the Colorado Regional Coordinator at the SSEC.  Her office is located at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.  Her main responsibilities include:  1) building awareness for science education among leaders, 2) helping develop science education leadership among groups from school districts and states, 3) conducting professional development programs to support the professional growth of teachers, and 4) developing and disseminating information about exemplary science instructional materials.