Collaborative 'Soccer Ball Experiment' adds to students' skill sets

June 27, 2019

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. – A uniquely collaborative learning experience at Pennsylvania College of Technology, dubbed the “Soccer Ball Experiment,” helped civil engineering technology and surveying technology students and members of the Wildcat women’s soccer team acquire useful professional tools during the spring semester.

A woman kicks a soccer ball on a grassy field

About to blast an instrumented ball is Kayla M. Spotts, of Shamokin, among the Wildcat soccer players cooperating in an exercise with civil engineering and surveying students at Penn College.

IMAGE: Penn College

When weather finally allowed, the civil engineering technology and surveying technology students used a variety of instruments – including small unmanned aerial systems (drones), the Global Positioning System, total stations, a tape measure, an accelerometer and smartphones – to collect data while the student-athletes and their coach took turns striking a soccer ball on Penn College’s Madigan Library lawn.

The data was used to measure the accuracy of ball placement with respect to targets on the grass and to describe the dynamic properties (such as position, velocity and acceleration) of the launched ball. In addition to using technical skills to acquire that information, the students completed a reflection assignment that required them to assess how they employed their own collaboration, communication and critical thinking skills.

Participants used diverse skill sets to work together, interpreting technical language and adjusting the original plan when issues were encountered. Collaboration, communication and critical thinking skills are essential for civil engineers and surveyors – multidisciplinary problem-solvers who use their technical knowledge to serve the infrastructure and quality-of-life needs of people and societies.

David J. Fedor, a professional engineer and instructor of civil engineering technology; Nicholas A. Puza, a professional land surveyor and instructor of surveying technology; and Christa L. Matlack, women’s soccer coach, supervised and assisted the students with developing and executing the activities.

Students from the Dynamics and Practical Surveying Problems and Adjustments courses designed the experiment and collected the data.

Matlack and student-athletes Kaelan M. Cronan, a nursing student from Leesport; Francesca M. Timpone, a pre-practical nursing student from Smithtown, New York; and Kayla M. Spotts, a student in business administration: sport and event management concentration from Shamokin, took turns striking. Kyle L. Kott, of Williamsport, enrolled in civil engineering technology, assisted with ground photography, and Glenn “Cody” Johnson, a surveying technology student from Sweet Valley, helped with aerial photography.

“The cross-collaboration on this project was a unique opportunity for both the civil engineering and surveying students and the student-athletes to interact and learn together,” Matlack said. “Each individual was not only able to take away new knowledge, but also a respect for their peers’ area of expertise, whether that be chipping a soccer ball or operating a total station.”

The experience allowed all involved to collaborate, communicate and critically think while applying quantitative reasoning and technological literacy skills. Those skills are all important foundations in Penn College’s New Core Curriculum, which emphasizes the integration of foundations (skills needed for any coursework), perspectives (electives) and a specialization (major) that are important in preparing students for the 21st-century information society.

“A major goal of the Soccer Ball Experiment was to demonstrate the great potential for educational partnerships that only exist at Penn College due to its 100-plus diverse majors and because we highly value inclusion and accessibility,” Fedor said. “This experience has provided us with a considerable amount of both quantitative and qualitative data that we can use as the basis of learning activities in our classrooms and in our STEAM outreach to K-12 schools. Hopefully, we have inspired students, faculty, staff, administration and alumni to create new types of teaching and learning partnerships.”

The learning objectives for civil engineering technology students included reinforcing principles of dynamics that were introduced in the classroom and using an applied setting to explore the challenges of acquiring data. Engineering dynamics is a theoretical subject that usually involves time-consuming logical mathematical calculations to solve problems under very specific, restrictive conditions.

Information in theoretical problems is often provided without any explanation as to how it was acquired. That disconnect between classroom and the real world can make it difficult for students to conceptualize the theory and make sense of solutions, even when the correct procedures have been followed.

“This project showed a simple application of how dynamics is part of our everyday life,” noted civil engineering technology student Emanuel H. Finnerty, of Williamsport. “It gave us a chance to practice using some of the data processing technology we have to recreate this experiment with real numbers instead of theoretical values. It shows that, as civil engineers, we are able to figure out many different types of problems.”

An applied learning activity can make dynamics more inclusive and more accessible because students can also use their other intelligences – such as spatial and bodily kinesthetic learning styles – to make observations and interact with the problem and solution.

A sampling of participant comments certified that the project’s intent was realized.

“As a civil engineering student, I always appreciate the educational piece of learning outside,” said student Drake R. Lenker, of Gratz, vice president of the college’s American Society of Civil Engineers student chapter. “Today’s technology allows more precision and accuracy, which will always benefit our future. Civil engineering encompasses the outdoors, so let's apply our classroom knowledge outside.”

“Being able to utilize technology for any class gives us an advantage. It was cool to be able to design an experiment that related to our curriculum and allowed us to work with other majors and the soccer team,” said David T. Fox, of Coburn, a civil engineering technology student and member of the college archery team. “Dynamics is a challenging class, given that civil engineers typically deal with stationary objects. Our professors here do a great job of integrating current technology and providing us students with a variety of ways to learn and making sure we understand the material.”

The surveying technology students were able to explore how using their instruments unconventionally affects the standard methods that they are taught to use in professional practice.

Customarily, land surveyors take careful measurements of terrain or stationary objects. It can be a time-consuming effort to complete a field survey, even with modern tools. Tracking a soccer ball in flight to accurately predict its landing spot forced the students to adapt on the fly to unusual field conditions. They had to take measurements more quickly than is done in professional practice so that the participants could maximize the amount of data collected in a limited amount of time.

“Allowing me to participate in the civil engineering experiment has made me understand what goes into data that they collected,” Timpone said. “The cross-collaboration on the project was very interesting. There is more to kicking a soccer ball than meets the eye.”

Penn College will offer a credit course on drones each spring through its civil engineering technology and surveying technology department. The course will include such topics as operation, flight planning, photogrammetry and reality modeling.

Department faculty studied and began integrating aspects of the emerging technology into other courses in the ABET-accredited civil engineering technology and surveying technology programs throughout the 2018-19 academic year.

Faculty own and use their personal DJI drones for instruction, recruiting and outreach. The School of Construction & Design Technologies owns a DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2 that was acquired through a National Science Foundation Built Environment grant to support outreach and recruitment in a scholarship program targeted to low-income, high-ability students.

Additional information about civil engineering technology, surveying technology and other majors in the college’s School of Construction & Design Technologies is available at www.pct.edu/cdt or by calling 570-327-4518.

For more about the women’s soccer team, which competes in NCAA Division III and the North Eastern Athletic Conference, visit www.pctwildcats.com.

For more about Penn College, a national leader in applied technology education, visit www.pct.edu, email admissions@pct.edu or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

Last Updated June 27, 2019