Teachers bring STEM lessons to the golf galleries

Jun. 19, 2014 @ 08:45 PM

Fun, hands-on activities often trump sitting at a desk or reading a thick textbook when it comes to learning. The same applies to teachers as students. The same even applies at the U.S. Open.

The Chevron STEM Zone is one stop in Putter Boy Plaza alongside concessions, golf and fitness lessons and new cars. The goal inside the Zone is turning science, technology, engineering and math concepts into lingo and examples fans coming out for a day or week of golf can take to.

Math and physics go into the stimpmeter and Ty Leak, a student at Fayetteville State University, explains, shows it first-hand, then lets you try a few putts on a U.S. Open-speed green - which reads between 12 and 13 on the stimpmeter.

"We're here trying to teach and show people how the physics and science of the game intersect with STEM subjects," Leak said.

A stimpmeter reading golf fans likely hear so much about is taken with three balls slid down a rail held at an angle. The middle reading is what goes down as official.

Then the putts? Even a dead flat 18-footer? There's probably a real physics theory at play but the easy lesson is: why Pinehurst No. 2 is for the best in the world for these two weeks.

All of the volunteers, and Leak said he's on duty every day of the two weeks, are current or recent Fayetteville St. students on track for degrees, not necessarily in teaching or education, but recruited for this program because they're majoring in a science, technology, engineering or math field.

"STEM teacher training is the key need to make STEM education work," said Tom Knox.

Teaching younger students via a game they like is part of the Zone. Letting future teachers find new ways to get difficult concepts across to kids is great for inside a tent at the U.S. Open and, the main mission, inside classrooms.

"After one or two days, we're seeing it, the teachers get even more excited," Knox said. "What they're doing becomes more unique, more valuable. This really gives them skills in how to convey what they're teaching."

"Golfers are intuitive scientists," said STEM Zone manager Bianca Valjalo.

Kids aren't going to take away a full semester of a science or math class from playing around in the STEM Zone. Hopefully though, the visit lets them see how schoolwork has real, practical, even sporting, applications.

"We're not necessarily trying to teach these subjects the same as in school. It's more about trying to inspire," Valjalo said.

Fayetteville resident and Pinehurst caddie Bazen Keefe was manning the golf simulator - which has a lot to do with reactions, angles, speed and trajectories. For those who care more about their golf game than a physics lesson, Keefe gives a print-out of the 5-iron and 9-iron shots. It's the same info, albeit from a very small sample size, pros use within lessons and for perfect club fitting.

"This is bringing abstract science concepts and making them accessible, making them fun," said Valjalo, "for kids and adults who love to play golf."