Sports in the classroom motivate students

Like the rest of Arizona football fans, children are catching Super Bowl fever, as one professor uses sports in the classroom to teach and reach kids.

Barbara Veltri, assistant professor in the College of Education, developed her Power Hitter program 15 years ago to use the motivating aspects of sports to engage elementary and middle school students in hands-on, “real-life” activities.

Power Hitter uses baseball, football and basketball to teach literacy, numeracy and technology skills. The program also teaches students critical thinking skills and to work in small groups.

Veltri came up with the idea of Power Hitter as a former teacher at an all-boys school in Connecticut, when she had to find a way to motivate and engage her students.

“My students instigated this program,” Veltri said. “Boys learn differently, and they need movement and reinforcement focused on particular areas, so I developed my sports program and started with baseball.”

An example of Power Hitter curriculum
An example of Power Hitter curriculum

Veltri now teaches her curriculum to NAU education majors and hopes to offer the course to other universities. She says her college students love the program, and it provides a model for them to come up with their own engaging content for kids.

Using sports to teach children incorporates a variety of activities. For example, last semester Veltri used the baseball program in a social studies class during the World Series to incorporate geography. The students looked up the weather for game day and located the teams’ cities on the map.

Here are some sample
Power Hitter activities:

Go to and look up
the gameday forecast of the Superbowl.

Look at the Arizona Cardinal players’ uniform numbers and make factor trees. Who is wearing a uniform with a prime number?

Answer: Kurt Warner #13, Larry Fitzgerald #11

In November, middle-schoolers from the Navajo and Hopi reservation visited NAU for a football game and the Power Hitter program. They completed football-related activities incorporating math, literacy, technology, nutrition and geography at NAU’s Walkup Stadium, the pre-season training site of the Arizona Cardinals.

“They had fun while they were learning, and it was even on a Saturday.” Veltri said. “It was a great way to connect kids to real life.”