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Extra Innings: Using a Video Game and Baseball to Teach Science and Math

Extra Innings: Using a Video Game and Baseball to Teach Science and Math

By Erica Marsh | September 15, 2016
Project Coordinator, ETR

Extra Innings is a new project which will be building a mobile video game to teach math and science. It’s a collaboration between ETR, dfusion and Science of Sport.

What’s new and different about it? We’re using a curriculum called Science of Baseball as the foundation, and we’ll be doing a formal evaluation of its efficacy.

The existing Science of Baseball curriculum represents a collaboration between Science of Sport, Major League Baseball, and several MLB franchises, including the Arizona Diamondbacks. It empowers students to improve academic performance and confidence in science and math through experiential learning of baseball concepts.

So let’s play ball! We hope to show that curve balls and strike zones blend very nicely with geometry, biomechanics, data visualization, aerodynamics and other STEM topics.

Partners In the Project

This project is funded by a National Institutes of Health grant awarded to dfusion, a small business that develops new technologies to improve health and education outcomes. It combines the work of several leaders in the field, including Ricardo Valerdi, Principal Investigator, who created the Science of Baseball curriculum.

ETR’s expert in STEM education and diversity, Jill Denner, Principal Investigator, will ensure the game is appealing and useful for different kinds of youth, and that it includes the elements of effective learning games.

Tamara Kuhn, Principal Investigator from dfusion, will lead the game design and development, as well as the Phase I usability tests and evaluation.

Why Use Video Games or Sports to Teach Math and Science?

There is a growing national shortage of trained science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workers. Compared with other countries, U.S. students rank in the middle of the pack in math and science performance.

We need to encourage interest in STEM topics and draw more young people to STEM careers. Reaching students by middle school is critical—it is when they are making decisions about the appeal of STEM topics. And building on existing interests, such as sports and video games, is a promising strategy.

A gaming platform is a good way to teach sports concepts. After all, sports are, by definition, games. Sports-based categories are also among the most popular digital games. However, this highly successful format has only recently begun to be leveraged for STEM learning.

Using Sports to Increase STEM Learning and Interest

There are now a number of projects that aim to integrate STEM learning with sports. These include science museum exhibits examining hockey, baseball, skateboarding, surfing and more; an MIT-run summer camp for urban boys that teaches science through baseball; and a curriculum by the San Francisco 49ers designed to teach STEM concepts through football.

The Science of Baseball curriculum was one of the earlier efforts in this arena. It includes in-class and field-based lessons based on Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, as well as teacher training. It has been implemented in more than 250 schools. We’re excited to add the technology and gaming component to the curriculum in our new project.

Video Games, Defined
  1. Participants strive to achieve a set of goals within the constraints of rules enforced by the software.
  2. Participants receive feedback toward the completion of these goals (e.g., score, progress, wins).
  3. Participants are intended to find recreational value in the game.

Digital Games, Design, and Learning: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (2014).

Using Extra Innings to Teach the Science of Baseball Curriculum

The Science of Baseball curriculum is designed with two components—an in-class learning component and an “on the field” experiential component. Out on the field, students physically test out concepts from their classwork. For example, the curriculum uses different kinds of balls to test aerodynamics and ballistics. A baseball, a tennis ball and a foam ball each have a distinctive mass that affects their trajectories. Throw them with comparable force and they will take different paths, landing in different places.

The Extra Innings digital game will use similar principles. One of the ideas being considered: students learn about physiology and the connection between the brain, eyes and nervous system by testing their reaction time at fielding a baseball as the ball appears on the screen. This digital approach has the potential to increase engagement after Science of Baseball lessons and provide additional learning opportunities beyond the classroom and school grounds.

In addition, gaming in a family context has become increasingly popular in the gaming industry. Using the app outside of the classroom allows students to play and learn with family and friends.

The app is intended to be used with the in-person curriculum because it will contain the same core concepts. However, because both stand-alone educational games and those with traditional instruction scaffolding have been shown to be effective for learning, Extra Innings will be designed so it can also be used on its own or in conjunction with other existing STEM curricula.

More Effective Instruction

Discovering more effective means of instruction is an overarching goal of this project. In order for students to absorb and care about STEM topics, we need to approach the topics with tools and forms that also excite and interest youth. We look forward to continued work that contributes to the field’s understanding of the value of children learning STEM through alternative means, and discovering how to best approach the learning so it has the most positive and permanent impact on students.


Erica Marsh is a Project Coordinator at ETR. She can be reached at


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