NSF, NBC Teach Science With NFL Football

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and NBC Learn have joined with the NFL to create a 10-part series of videos on the Science of NFL Football. The videos, running three to five minutes each and supplemented with lesson plans, are being released weekly on-line for use in high schools and middle schools. In each video, current and former NFL players demonstrate aspects of the game as they relate to such topics as “vectors,” “projectile motion and parabolas,” and even “nutrition, hydration, and health.”

“The National Science Foundation is completely committed to bringing this kind of content to students and teachers to foster excitement about science,” says Soraya Gage, executive producer at NBC Learn, the educational arm of NBC News. NBC and the NSF previously created a series of educational pieces around the 2010 Olympics.

Says Gage, “We were trying to figure out ways we could partner to use the resources and production capability and range and depth of NBC News to advance the understanding of science.” They looked to “pick a major event that everybody’s going to be watching and drill down into it and explore scientific concepts so students could watch their heroes at work.”

The NFL was receptive to the idea. “They are very interested in education and outreach and were incredibly generous with access to the players and the training camps,” she says.

The pieces feature footage shot at summer training camps, clips from archival game coverage, and demonstrations of aspects of the game, shot in an airplane hanger in Santa Monica, CA, using the Phantom high-speed camera. Current NFL players Hines Ward, Antwaan Randle El, and Jake Long were interviewed at camp. Former players quarterback Joey Harrington, punter Craig Hentrich, and place kicker Morten Anderson were also enlisted for the shoots.

The shoots took place in a 41,000-sq.-ft. airplane hanger because “even most large studios in Los Angeles may not have 43-ft. ceilings,” says Philip Parrish, senior producer/editor for the NBC Olympics Production Group, who supervised the project. “The additional space helped accommodate all the place-kicking and punting we were looking to illustrate.”

A 3,000-sq.-ft. Astroturf 4 field was created in the hanger. “Making sure [the field] looked good and was safe for the athletes was a rather remarkable feat that our art director, Alex Fymat, put together in under six hours,” Parrish says. For the high-speed shoot, the production required more than 100,000 W of light to have a bright enough image to actually photograph.”

The Phantom camera can shoot up to 4,300 frames per second (fps) into a buffer. “Shooting at 1,000 fps [for this project] allows you to shoot for 4.3 seconds,” Parrish explains. “You only have a very small window of shooting. That really cuts down on the amount of action you can consequently shoot. You have to be very specific about the action and the moment you are trying to record.”

The footage from the Phantom shoots are integral to illustrating the scientific principles featured in the video segments.

In designing the educational presentations, NBC Learn “engaged a middle school teacher at the beginning of the process to home in on the most important scientific concepts that would be most usable in the classroom,” says Gage. “We focused on the fact that we wanted to create modules that could be used across a few curriculums and grade levels.”

Dr. Tony Schmitz, a professor at the University of Florida and former Temple University football player, “guided us from the science perspective and football perspective,” Gage says.

Lesson plans for the series were created by Silicon Valley-based educational foundation Lessonopoly.

The first three videos were released during the opening week of the NFL season. Subsequent pieces will be released each Thursday. NBC News’ Lester Holt narrates the series.

“I was really thrilled by the whole experience,” Gage says. She hopes to continue the concept, focusing on other sports, such as golf, tennis, hockey, and the 2012 Summer Olympic games.

“If you really want to reach kids in a constructive, positive way, they are really into sports. They want to watch sports.” she says. “If you can combine educational content with that, you’re doing a real public service.”

The videos can be viewed or downloaded cost-free at http://www.nbclearn.com or http://www.science360.gov.