Experience design | Workshops

Center of Attention

How might we design multi-disciplinary learning experiences?

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Overview

Aimed at bridging the gap between school subjects, Center of Attention is an experimental workshop combining physics principles and sports. The workshop focused on handstands, a skill used in multiple sports, and the physics principle of center of mass. Designed for a local high school cheer squad,  handstand drills were combined with a new physics spin was introduced to create a unique multi-disciplinary and multi-sensory learning experience.  

In partnership with Columbia Secondary School in Harlem, NYC.

 
 
 
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The Problem

Siloing School Subjects

School subjects are broken down into subject areas - but in reality, topics are multi-faceted.

 

 

In US public education, the convergence of multiple subject areas on a topic is coincidental, yet provides some of the richest learning experiences and depth. Reducing a topic to a single subject area often leads to an education experience focused on rote memorization, rather than immersion in the topic.

But the education system, notably at higher levels where different subject areas are taught by different departments, the likelihood of coordination between mutually covered topics is unlikely.

 
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Opportunity

Taking Hands On Learning Literally

Movements from sports can build a greater understanding of physics, and conversely,  an understanding of physics can improve technique.

 

Physics (mechanics) explains how the world moves around us. But physics is a challenging subject, and in a physics course, homework problems are about boxes sliding down ramps or pendulums swinging - not things that we interact with everyday. Inspired by my own time as a physics student, I always wanted to understand how the physics principles could be applied to a real-world context, and in particular, the human body. 

 

Why handstands?

Handstands are a body position that is easy to analyze - the body is stacked in a straight line. At the same time, when in a handstand position, it is possible to feel whether or not the body is balanced, more so than balancing on the feet for an opportunity to feel balance, rather than just talk about it.

 
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The Solution

Body Stickers

Stickers are used to locate the center of mass on the body, which is then used as a reference point for both technique and visual analysis.

 

The location of the center of mass (COM) will differ for each person based on their proportions and body weight distribution. Stickers can approximate the location using proportion, where each student will have a unique measurement location for the COM. The center of mass represents the balance point, giving students a focal point. Students can then begin to practice handstands, and receive a photo of their form that they can analyze.

 
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the experience  |  march 25, 2017

 
 
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The Science

Center of Mass

COM can be thought of as the balance point. Locating the COM on the body can be useful for achieving balancing postures.

 

Center of mass (COM) is a physics concept that represents a point that gravity acts down upon. But in more everyday terms, center of mass can be thought of as the balance point of an object. In a physics classroom, the center of mass is usually referenced for objects such as a box, or perhaps a pendulum. But there can be real application when looking at the center of mass in the body, and how it can be used to improve balance and body positioning in sports or movement-based activities. In order to achieve balance, the center of mass must be positioned over the contact point with the ground.

 

 
 
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The math

A Non-Textbook Application

A reference chart for human body weight distributions was applied to the equation for center of mass to locate each individual's balance point.

 

In consulting with a physics teacher, the analysis for a handstand was confirmed to be a simple calculation.  From there, the standard equation for center of mass and a table of weight distribution for human body parts to derive an equation specific to my workshop for finding the balance point on the human body. Looking at the positioning for handstands in relation to weight distributions, approximations were made to simply the equation to a one-step process. There are two variables, d, which can be measured on the body, and x, representing the location for the center of mass.

20 (d-x) = 50 x

d: distance between the torso and thigh markers

Solve for x.

 
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Prototyping and Testing

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Workshop Assets

 

Designs and Materials

COM reference stickers, measuring tape, worksheet, instant camera and film, decorating tickers

 

 

Participants were provided with a worksheet detailing out step by step instructions with equations and explanations, custom center of mass stickers to place on their bodies, as well as a polaroid photo of their handstand and decorative center of mass stickers for their photo.

 
 
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Ooooh, that makes sense!
— Workshop Participant
 
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Response

Positive Reactions and Unexpected Insights

Parents were excited, coaches saw an opportunity to do something new, and students had fun with the workshop.

 
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Special thanks to cheer coaches Colette Young + RB Martin, and the Columbia Secondary School cheerleading squad.

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