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Wings pick up assist on STEM program

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader watches a student use the new STEM program at Upton Elementary School in Royal Oak, Mich. (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)

ROYAL OAK, Mich.Justin Abdelkader and Danny DeKeyser know something about education in the state of Michigan.

The two Red Wings attended grade school, high school and college here.

On Tuesday, the pair helped introduce a new educational program from the NHL and the NHLPA to students at Alfred E. Upton Elementary School in suburban Royal Oak.

The players were on hand for the unveiling of the Hockey Scholar, a new hockey-themed educational course designed to enable grade-school students to develop important science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills and understand the real world application of these disciplines.

“It should obviously be a good program for the students to learn about hockey,” said Abdelkader, who received his business degree from Michigan State University last month. “I think it’s a positive program and hopefully we can spread it around to a lot of the schools around Michigan and around the country and into Canada, because it teaches students who don’t know a lot about hockey different angles, icings, stick curves, everything.”

The courses take students on an educational journey with a goal of winning the Stanley Cup. Students can guide their favorite NHL team through 12 learning modules designed to educate them and test their knowledge on STEM concepts covering data analysis, geometry, life science and physical science topics.

These subjects come to life through hockey simulations that include the dynamics of the ice surface, equipment design, athletic performance, and geometric and energy considerations to detail how the game is played.

“Watching the students utilize the program has been great,” Upton principal John Grzywack said. “They’re learning area, they’re learning how to measure angles and states of matter, so it’s really important because besides it being presented by a teacher – where it’s a learn-sit-and-get kind of thing – they’re able to learn about it interactively through technology. And we all know that those kids know more about technology than we do some days. It’s a great program and we’re very excited.

“The nice part of it, too, is the awards, like the Stanley Cups they can earn, which encourages them to keep going. Anytime they can see themselves as being successful they want to keep going.”

The NHL/NHLPA program is currently being used by more than 5,700 students in 25 Michigan schools. It’s tremendous growth for such a new program.

“I think it’s important to be able to reach kids in a different way, and that’s the beauty of this program working with the NHL and the NHLPA,” said Tom Wilson, president and CEO of Olympia Entertainment. “It takes the topics that you need to know as a kid – science and technology and engineering and math – and it puts it in a game format. So if you’re at all inclined to like hockey or like basketball or like baseball, you see the challenge in a different way, and so I think it’s a great way to bring all the subjects and all the things you’re going to need in school alive.”

Not exactly familiar with the STEM program, DeKeyser said anytime hockey can get involved in assisting school-aged students is a positive for everybody. DeKeyser was a last-minute replacement for Niklas Kronwall, who underwent successful arthroscopic knee surgery Tuesday morning.

“I think this is huge. Being professional athletes I think it’s kind of important to help out kids in the community,” DeKeyser said. “I think anytime I can be a part of something that helps educate kids it’s a plus.”

Upton teacher Tim Boyer is excited for his fourth- and fifth-grade science students, who were recently introduced to the program.

“I think with being this understanding that globally that technology is going to be a huge part of our kids’ future this program is super exciting,” Boyer said. “It brings a lot of that technology into topics that I’m normally teaching in front of my whiteboard. When I first started explaining to the kids what they were going to be doing, I think they thought it was gonna be a game, and when they first started getting into it, and they realized they were learning just in a different way. I told them we can always go back to me drawing boxes and doing area models, but would you rather come down to the computer lab? It’s been overwhelmingly positive as far as their experiences.”

Wilson was thrilled to see the enthusiasm that the elementary students brought to Tuesday’s assembly in the school gymnasium.

“One of the great tasks that we have – in any professional sports organization – is being able to reach the kids and to use that power that players have, and it’s probably disproportionate to what we should have, but players can influence kids in ways that teachers can’t and parents can’t,” he said. “They have the ability to reach them, so it’s sort of an obligation or a privilege, I think, for every team to get out there and spend time with the young people in our community.”

Communications Coordinator Alex DiFilippo contributed to this report.

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