Think about everything you know about the San Francisco 49ers and their new Levi’s Stadium. It cost $1.3 billion to build. It can hold nearly 70,000 people. And it is the home of the Super Bowl 50.
But what you might not know is that it's also a place where about 30,000 students come every year to learn about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)?
Inside Levi’s Stadium is the DeBartolo York Education Center, which provides educational programs focused on STEM topics. It was built with two classrooms, and a third was added recently. This will allow the team to host 60,000 K-8 students next year.
Naturally, the classrooms have a football stadium feel. They have small bleachers on the side and use turf-style carpet to remake the field. The seats are all red, like the seats in Levi’s, and have “SF 49ers” engraved on them.
The rooms also have amazing technology. On the field trip I experienced last week, the kids went crazy when touchscreen tables suddenly converted into mini-football fields for interactive STEM activities. The rooms are also equipped with areas with magnetic walls so that new paneling can be mounted easily allowing kids to add and remove gears and create make football field formations.
The education center hires professional teachers who work full time at the stadium to work with visiting students. The teachers’ goal is to educate kids in a fun way and spark their interest in STEM.
“Just getting them interested and involved is key,” says lead educator Monique Smith. “It is important to walk around the room and make a connection with each student so that you can engage them.”
One way they do this is to let kids design a football helmet. It seems like a simple piece of sports equipment. But the students learn how the crash testing, breathability, and the material selection that goes into building the helmet relates to STEM.
“We want to show kids how football is a great platform to teach them about science, engineering, technology and math,” says Kalen, a program educator. “A lot of kids don't get that integrated in the classroom.”
The education center also features a 49ers museum. It has a fun area where kids can pretend to be sports broadcasters. They record video where they call a play, then send it to themselves to share with their friends and family. In the “By the Numbers” section, they also learn about the history of the team and the city.
By combining sports and STEM, the 49ers expose students to ideas and topics they might otherwise ignore. But there’s also a fitness and health component to the experience. The kids get on the field where they do relay races and learn how players rely on science and technology to improve their performance.
“How football can relate to things like science surprised me,” says 7-year-old Charles.
The 49ers’ STEM program is one-of-a-kind — not just in the NFL but all professional sports. And with it, the team is inspiring the next generation of athletes, scientists, and engineers.
“Every lesson that we do allows kids to make something or take something apart,” says Jesse Lovejoy, 49ers Museum Director. “Ultimately, it is all about young people getting the opportunity to learn and be exposed to new things.”
Photos: Terrell Lloyd/49ers