Rowing Into the Future: Uniting STEM Education with Athletic Innovation through RowingSTEM

Rowing Into the Future: Uniting STEM Education with Athletic Innovation through RowingSTEM


Innovating Education: The Birth of RowingSTEM

RowingSTEM started as a curious thought. The force curve on the PM monitor on the Concept2 rowing machine seemed to me to be an excellent way to demonstrate a real-life example of impulse and force application a science teacher could use in a high school physics classroom.

When I looked around at various available apps, there were limited options. I needed to find a way to capture the points generated by the machine so that a teacher could teach a lesson and use those points as the basis of an activity to calculate the area under the curve.

Embarking on App Development: My Learning Curve

The next few months involved me taking a journey into app development, learning about Bluetooth API, and building an app that could capture those points. My learning started with trying to solve a problem. What followed was learning skills and competencies that would help me design four apps that could be used with the rowing machine.

Concept2 was very helpful and gave me the technical support to understand how the PM5 monitor worked via Bluetooth with an external device such as a phone. I learned about bits, bytes, and how machines communicate.

As a result of this journey, RowingSTEM for iOS (and now Android) came to be. I had effectively found the intersections of three of my passions (Rowing, STEM, and technology-app development). The process was a synthesis of three areas and was interdisciplinary.

The development of RowingSTEM happened almost five years ago now. Since that beginning, the curriculum has grown and developed. Additionally, the curriculum is now available on the LabXchange platform, so now has a global reach.

As a result of this effort, I was presented with the opportunity to present at the Native American STEM Conference and competition on the campus of the University of Tulsa.

Rowing Machines Meet Books: A Unique Educational Setting

Fortunately, I had the help of many people to help make this workshop a reality. I am thankful to Connor Briggs and his daughter Caroline for helping move the rowing machines to the boathouse over to the TU campus. Additionally, John Maley, a long time friend, and Tulsa Rowing Club member graciously volunteered his time to help assist during the workshop. All of this support, including the financial support of TYRA and our supporters proved invaluable and I could not have made this event work without all of that support.

We moved the machines into the McFarlin library on the TU campus the day before the conference. The walls had row upon row of books. This experience was new; I had never set up rowing machines in a library. However, upon reflection, it seemed appropriate that RowingSTEM was presented in a library setting. We moved the machines into the library as quietly as possible because students were sitting at their desks doing their end-of-the-week studying before Thanksgiving break.

I hoped the educators would enjoy the experience we were preparing for them. As you might expect, I was anxious because I had never run professional development like this before.

Morning Session: Educators Row into STEM Learning


At the start of the day, I met with all of the teachers in a conference room and provided an overview of the activities for the day. It was wonderful to see so many like-minded educators. I had hoped to show the video of the story of the Union Alternative School RowingSTEM program to provide some context for our work together. I’ll embed that movie below for reference.

After a brief introduction, the rest of the first session involved using the rowing machines in the library space we had prepared the afternoon before, and I led a relatively quick learn-to-row session. It was fun to help people row for the first time. We had ten machines ready to go and almost twice as many educators in the first session (the educators were separated into two groups for the AM and PM sessions).

I enjoyed working with people through the sequence of the recovery of the stroke and how to push and suspend off the handle to create force during the drive. Everyone was very engaged and having a good time learning how to use the machines.

To conclude this session, I demonstrated how to use the RowingSTEM app (iOS version). I showed everyone how to pair the app with the machine via Bluetooth and how to view the data collected from rowing activity in the graphing screen of the app. RowingSTEM collects seventeen different data points during rowing. This data ranges from time and distance to stroke length, peak force, average force, and all of the force curve data.

We discussed the use of the force curve, how we use the visualization of the curve to examine force application, and what it means in terms of the application of the rowing technique.

Afternoon Session: Unleashing Interdisciplinary Creativity

The central concept of RowingSTEM was interdisciplinary synthesis. Therefore, the plan for the afternoon session was to focus on merging ideas and interests into experiences we could develop for our students. The plan consisted of three phases, each building on the previous one.

The first activity was designed to get everyone to consider their passions and how they might be linked to STEM. So, the first activity that I created involved a Venn diagram with three circles. Each person was instructed to write STEM or STEAM in one of the circles and then brainstorm what they might write in the other two circles. As a result, in the place on the diagram where all three circles intersected, each person could see what kinds of activities or themes could be found. One aspect of the activity I had yet to expect was that many people filled out the three spaces on the diagram where the two circles intersected.

You can download the worksheet for this activity at the link below to try it yourself.

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Using Pip Decks To Fuel My Creativity

The following steps in this brainstorming session built on this initial Venn diagram activity. I developed the following two steps with the help of the Pip Deck cards that I had purchased over the last couple of months. I have invested in these decks because I am doing more professional and product development at this career stage and generally want to improve my writing and storytelling.

If you need to become more familiar with Pip Decks, they are sets of cards that help provide structure for many different activities. I used the set called “Workshop tactics” for this professional development.

workshop tactics pip deck

The second activity I had planned was another brainstorming activity that built on the first activity. The task was to brainstorm eight different ideas. For each idea, a time limit of 1 minute is provided. The time pressure creates a little pressure and is an effective way to help idea generation. The important thing at this activity stage is that the volume of ideas is the crucial goal.

After eight minutes of brainstorming, each person had several ideas or areas they could choose from (it was optional that eight ideas were created, and most people had four to eight ideas).

The final stage of the session involved developing one of the ideas from the last activity and fleshing it out into a plan for a learning experience for students. Each person then filled out a third piece of paper with the title of their learning experience, a quick sketch, and a step-by-step plan for their lesson or unit. The breadth of ideas generated by the room was exciting. Lessons on using mathematics and physics in sports such as volleyball were shared. Another example included looking at the biomechanics of football or creating an animal that could excel at a particular sport. Other examples included a Native American teaching garden and the physics and statistics of basketball.

RowingSTEM: Pioneering a New Educational Frontier

After the session, I scanned in all of the ideas we had generated using my phone so that I could send them to the conference organizers so they could distribute them to the group. As a result of the workshop, we worked together and created a dialog and a new creation was brought to life due to the activities and discussion.

In conclusion, the journey of RowingSTEM from a simple idea to a fully-fledged educational tool exemplifies the power of interdisciplinary innovation. By blending the physicality of rowing with the analytical world of STEM and the creative realm of app development, we have crafted an experience that transcends traditional education methods. This project is not just about teaching physics or promoting fitness; it’s a testament to the boundless possibilities when passion meets technology and education. As RowingSTEM continues to evolve, I hope it stands as a beacon of inspiration, encouraging educators and students alike to explore, engage, and excel at the intersection of diverse fields. The RowingSTEM initiative, rooted in the hallowed halls of a library and stretching into the hands of eager learners worldwide, is more than an educational tool—it’s a journey of discovery, challenging us all to think beyond the boundaries of conventional learning.


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