Students explore science of roller skating


LANCASTER – Monica Padilla, 10, who loves science and aspires to become an astronaut one day and also sing and dance on Broadway, underscores the importance of including art in STEM studies.

On Sunday afternoon, Monica, her sister Ariely, 11, and other children from the North Central Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg, Leominster and Gardner attended a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) lesson with roller skating afterward at Roll On America. During “The Science of Roller Skating,” students reverse engineered a roller skate and learned how each part functions to make the skate.

Peter J. Simmons, filmmaker and Ashby elementary special education school teacher, taught the kids about friction using surfaces in the rink to demonstrate how various materials affect the skate in motion. The kids performed an experiment to test the friction of the skating floor versus the carpet and designed a new feature for a skate.

“I thought it was cool,” Monica said, who lives in Fitchburg and attends McKay Arts Academy. She and her family skate at Roll On often, she said. “I wanted to learn more about skating. There are lots of parts in the roller skate I didn’t know about. I took off the wheel. I think it will make me a better skater.”

“They made it fun for the kids to understand that roller skates are not just wheels and a boot,” said her mother, Dorcas Padilla, a medical assistant and office manager.

“To use STEM in life, you have to be courageous,” said Mr. Simmons, who works for the national program United Skates of America. He also told the kids that historically, there have been a lot of girls and women in STEM fields. “We need more,” he said.

He also stressed the importance of including art as part of STEM discussions, with the acronym often changed to STEAM for that purpose.

“Art is part of the whole future of the world and we need to make sure we value art,” he said.

During the interactive lesson, kids who answered Mr. Simmons’ questions correctly received small prizes, including models of spaceships and rockets.

Braden Dow, 10, of Fitchburg and friend Connor Jones, 8, of Gardner take turns taking the wheels off a skate during STEM lesson Sunday at Roll On America in Lancaster.

“The beauty of what we’re doing is inserting STEAM into everyday fun activities so the kids can learn how they can participate in the future,” Mr. Simmons said. “They might be doctors, artists, running a home … whatever they do, they are going to need STEAM to do a better job and create a better world. That’s my motivation.”

Jamie L. Cortes, general manager at Roll On, said the workshops, held there the last two years, combine education and physical fitness into one fun field trip.

She said her favorite part is when kids who never thought they could skate realize they can.

“They are so scared that they can’t skate, and they start and after a few minutes, they have a smile on their face,” she said. “We had a fourth-grade boy who is blind and has autism at one of the workshops and he absolutely loved to skate. It’s the best part of the program.”

Donata Martin, executive director of the area Boys & Girls Club, said the event was the region’s kickoff for STEM week, which includes family nights that also involve the Boys & Girls Club of Worcester, the Central MA STEM Network, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Fitchburg State University, Mount Wachusett Community College and other institutions.

Jennifer R. Denmead of Fitchburg, who works at South Bay Early Intervention in Worcester, attended with her son, Braden T. Dow, 10, and stepson, Connor G. Jones, 8, along with her infant son and husband.

“I like the part where we took apart the skates,” Connor said. “I got to learn how skates are made with reverse engineering and how there are more than 100 parts on the skate.”

“I think it was good,” Braden said. “I liked that they taught about STEAM, but my favorite part is the skating.”