You know the stereotype: a spaced-out kid with a skateboard under his arm, wearing a graphic tee and a vacant expression that suggests he’s taken one too many faceplants trying to catch some sick air.
Popular media might portray skaters as disinterested in academics and any surface area that isn’t good for grinding or flip tricks. But the reality is that skateboarding builds not only physical skills like balance and coordination, but also key 21st-century skills and academic connections for long-term success.
The Link Between Skateboarding and 21st-Century Skills
Today’s economy needs more than bookworms. As technology and artificial intelligence continue to evolve and disrupt markets, we need creative thinkers, risk-takers, and excellent global communicators to lead the way.
The report Beyond the Board: Skating, Schools, and Society found that skateboarders identify with many of these key 21st-century skills. Skateboarding shows a high association with the ability to:
- Stay with a challenge. As anyone who’s tried (and failed) to balance on a skateboard can attest to, skateboarding is no joke! Learning how to pull off turns and tricks takes a great deal of practice and patience, and that kind of grit will help students well beyond skateboarding.
- Work better with peers. Although skateboarding can be a solitary activity, it often isn’t. Skating with others allows students to learn from their peers and challenge themselves. Even shy skaters can connect with strangers by asking them for a game of SKATE (similar to playing HORSE in basketball, where skaters challenge each other to perform different tricks).
- Think outside the box. When you look at a city street, you probably see walls, curbs, and railings. But skaters see a landscape full of potential for ollies, grinds, and wallrides. As we’ll discuss more later, skaters are creative thinkers who look at the world a little differently than everyone else—in the best way possible!
- Solve tricky questions. How do you move your body and footing just right to do a tick-tack? How much speed and what angle do you need to pull off a noseblunt? Skaters are willing to try tricks and tweak their approaches over and over again to solve a problem—a valuable skill in education and beyond.
- Share ideas with people from different backgrounds. As with most sports, what people look like or where they come from doesn’t matter in skateboarding. Having a shared goal and interest can draw together all kinds of people, which is just as true in the skate park as it is in the classroom.
- Take responsibility for their actions. In skateboarding, you can’t blame the ref, your teammates, or the ball when something goes wrong. Everything comes down to your skills and your persistence, which instills a sense of responsibility skaters can take with them to every area of life.
“Skate to Educate”: The Garage Board Shop
So how can you connect skateboarding directly to education and career preparation? The Garage Board Shop is an innovative skateboarding business in East Los Angeles that sponsors an award-winning competitive skate team, after-school program, food bank, and much more. Here’s how they leverage skateboarding to encourage students to gain new skills, persist in school, and give back to the community:
- Homework reward system: Let’s face it: The hope of a good grade isn’t motivating enough for some students to finish their homework. That’s why the Garage Board Shop created the ZOOM program, where students submit completed homework assignments to earn points. They can then exchange their points for merchandise from the store. Teachers might be able to replicate this program with a class store or some other incentive related to students’ recreational interests (e.g., earning the privilege to work on their hobby during class).
- Working in the shop: The Garage Board Shop gets students involved in every part of their business. For example, they show students how to use recycled material to create products, and they give students a chance to show their creative side by designing artwork for their boards. Students also learn customer service and communication skills by working in the shop, helping customers and repairing boards as they come in. Finally, they learn about marketing and sales by creating ad campaigns for the store. Your class might be able to learn similar skills by starting a classroom garden or an online business.
- Community outreach: Many of the students who come to the Garage Board Shop are themselves underserved or underprivileged. However, that doesn’t stop the shop from involving these students in giving back to people who are going through hard times. For example, the shop runs a weekly food bank staffed by students, and they regularly raise money for a nearby battered women’s shelter. These activities not only help the community, but also show students how they can use their own interests, skills, and relationships to help others around them.
Check out more about the shop here:
Skateboarding: An Exercise in “Action Science”
Meet Dr. Skateboard (also known as Bill Robertson). He’s an accomplished science educator and lifelong skateboarder. Ever since he started pursuing his Ph.D., he decided to combine his love of skating with his goals in education, and the result has been a rich career of helping students make deep, authentic connections to their learning.
For example, when Dr. Skateboard first started working with middle school students, he found (perhaps unsurprisingly) that they were not interested in learning the facts and formulas behind important physics concepts such as momentum and kinetic and potential energy. However, when he showed them how understanding these concepts could make them better skateboarders, his students were suddenly fascinated by the science of speed, velocity, acceleration, motion, inertia, balanced and unbalanced forces, gravity, lift, thrust, drag, and simple and compound machines.
Here are some additional nuggets of pedagogical wisdom from Dr. Skateboard:
- Tap into how your students see the world. According to Dr. Skateboard, scientists and skaters look at the world in a very unique way—that is, through the lens of their discipline. For example, a scientist might look at a park bench and immediately think about its molecular makeup, while a skateboarder might think about how he or she can use it to pull off a trick. Ask your students what they’re interested in and how they spend their time outside of school; knowing this information may be the key to unlocking how to capture their interest in a subject.
- Learning occurs in places of high risk and high ambiguity. Dr. Skateboard points out that when we engage in something we’re familiar with or have already memorized (i.e., something with low ambiguity), we’re not really activating our learning centers. Likewise, students won’t be interested in learning something if they think it’s not important (i.e., low risk). So when you’re planning a lesson, ask yourself: Is there enough ambiguity to challenge students? And will they feel like it’s important enough to their lives to challenge themselves?
- Show students how to live the scientific method. Skateboarders are constantly living out the scientific method without realizing it: When approaching a new trick, they identify the problem, go through trials, collect data on what works and doesn’t work, and make adjustments to reach a new outcome. Dr. Skateboard relates this to the idea of mastery: sticking with something and practicing over and over again until you’re an expert. Students naturally do this with things they love, and when you show them they can do the same thing with learning in school, you can help them build their persistence and resilience for all of life’s challenges.
- Help marginalized students find a pathway to learning. Skateboarders often get a reputation for being disconnected and disinterested in school. However, Dr. Skateboard believes you can engage any student; it’s just a matter of finding their unique pathway to learning. So if you have a student who doesn’t seem academically motivated no matter what you do, don’t despair. There’s a way to connect what you’re trying to teach them to what they care about; you just have to be patient and discover it.