Center of Attention

How might we design multi-disciplinary learning experiences?


Center of Attention is a workshop on understanding a fundamental physics principle of center of mass in the context of handstands and the human body.


Experience and Workshop Design | 2017




Taking "hands-on learning" literally

Center of Attention is a handstand workshop designed that incorporates the physics fundamental, center of mass. Designed for a local high school cheer squad, handstands are a skill they were looking to build, and a new physics spin was introduced to create a multi-disciplinary and multi-sensory learning. Center of Attention is an 8 week project from my Master's Thesis on Education.  In partnership with Columbia Secondary School.



Real-world application

Physics 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.


the physics


Center of mass, explained

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.



COM and the body

How do you apply a physics concept in a non-textbook application? I began by contacting my high school physics teacher to discuss the difficulty of analyzing a handstand position with physics. Realizing it was a straightforward process, I used 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:


20 (d-x) = 50 x

d: distance between the torso and thigh markers

Solve for x.


prototyping and testing



Workshop overview

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.


the experience  |  march 25, 2017


Watch and learn

Watch the final experience in the video. Special thanks to teacher and cheer coach Colette Young, and the Columbia Secondary School cheerleading squad.




Students get it.

Bringing in an applied context to what can be an abstract principle creates new levels of understanding for students, and the application doesn't have to stop in the classroom.


Teachers get it.

Instructors take interdisciplinary approaches when it comes to building their own skills, and they can extend this knowledge to their students. Running this workshop opened opportunities to collaborate with instructors for more workshops, covering new topics and skills.