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Jackie Robinson Week: Middle school students learn about race, influence and the physics of baseball

Prairie Wind Middle School student Seth Johnson calculates the momentum of a pitch. Submitted photo
Seventh graders at Prairie Wind Middle School recently spent a week studying America’s favorite pastime – baseball.
In language arts, students read Jackie Robinson’s biography, “American Hero.”  Many were aware that Jackie Robinson was the first black man to play in the major leagues, but most were surprised at the details behind his story and the others around him who helped in his success. Students also spent time discussing how to define the word ‘hero.’ 
Audrey Swanson said, “A hero is someone who is able to help others and make a difference.”  
Jackie Robinson helped pave the way for other minorities to participate in baseball.  Emily Martinson said she believes that, “A hero is not afraid to stand up for their beliefs, no matter how difficult.”  Students were surprised to learn that in addition to Jackie Robinson, there were others around him that showed great character.  “Branch Rickey, the Dodger’s manager, didn’t care what other people thought,” said Anna Wientjes. “Pee Wee Reese showed tremendous character by supporting Jackie.” In social studies, students took a look back at 1947 and discussed racial issues of the time, including segregation and racism. They examined the influence Jackie Robinson had beyond baseball, and his positive impact on America.
The seventh grade science class studied the physics of baseball. Through a video clip from the University of Berkeley, students learned about the forces involved when pitching a fastball. The class then headed outside to calculate the momentum of a pitch when using their whole body versus just an arm.  Using velocity data, students converted their measurements from meters per second to miles per hour.  They then compared their data with that of other pitchers their age and beyond. To verify results, the class headed to the gym with a radar gun. Nick Lindberg recorded the top speed, with a fastball thrown 65 miles per hour. Students also located the “sweet spot” of a bat and learned the science behind it.  As they found out, it’s all about finding “nodes.”Finally, in math class, students looked at statistics of current baseball players. They calculated the different averages for how many times a player got a single, double, triple or a home run. The kids were each assigned a player and then then used the averages for that specific player to play a game of baseball using only the averages.
“Jackie Robinson taught me what real courage is,” said Tanner Knutson. Jace Kovash added, “No matter how much racism he endured or how much hate he received, Jackie never quit.  He was a hero to us all.”The 549 Foundation provided funds to help with expenses for this unit.