The Niners & Their Focus On STEAM Education Tools for Children’s Futures

A Look at the San Francisco 49ers’ Digital Education Tools Which Aim to Get Kids Interested in Analytical and Creative Careers At a Young Age
Better Days: Before the pandemic shutdowns, the San Francisco 49ers EDU program worked directly with children and parents, with the help of some of the Niners’ own roster. Here is a group with cornerback K'Waun Williams. Photo Credit: San Francisco 49ers

Arturo Hilario
El Observador

Since 2014 the San Francisco 49ers have hosted an educational program through their 49ers Foundation which has provided free resources, lessons and stadium tour field trips which have leveraged the game of football to teach about STEAM related lessons to K-8 students in the Bay Area.

At the start of the pandemic, as teaching moved online and the 49ers could not provide in person activity programs due to the shutdowns in Santa Clara County, the programming was adapted to an online format through its 49ers EDU Digital Playbook, which launched a year ago and just recently released a version in Spanish.

Led by the Director of 49ers EDU and 49ers Museum, Jesse Lovejoy, the team behind the education program wanted to find a way to turn the curriculum into something easily accessible by educators, students, and parents alike.

“It’s normally a field trip program where kids actually come to the stadium, and they go through a series of activities. It’s all based on STEAM learning. And one of the things that we wanted them to have for that experience was a proper textbook so that they could sit in our classrooms, do the lessons, and then teachers and students would have something to go home with so they could continue to explore the subjects, and teachers could use them to build new lessons once they got back to the classrooms.”

Building a textbook from scratch meant that the organization reached out to various advisors including the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Lawrence Hall of Science, and the Santa Clara Unified School District, among others.

“The initial playbook was constructed in the same fashion as our curriculum, which we wrote ourselves. And that was through the compilation of an advisory council of a bunch of different folks all across the Bay Area,” said Lovejoy.

Teachers, who have their ‘boots on the ground’ in classrooms, were also very much an important voice in the direction of the playbook and education content in general according to Lovejoy. “All of it was based off of feedback that we were and continue to get from educators.”

This collaboration with educators and an advisory council allowed the 49ers education team, which itself is made up of experienced educators and those in education-adjacent work, to construct a more focused education companion that aligned with state standards and focused on the diverse communities in the Bay Area.

The first line of the mission statement of the 49ers Foundation states right up front that the foundation exists to, “harnesses football to educate and empower.” Since there was a gap in accessibility to their classes once the pandemic halted most public gatherings, 49ers EDU had to visualize a way to continue to honor their mission statement.

“Primarily the way the kids end up using it is through the education system. And so, what we are always encouraging educators to do is share this with your students and especially this kind of resource, and especially last year when a lot of families were just trying to figure out how to engage their kids in learning experiences at home while distance learning was kind of getting figured out like this is something that can be standalone.”

STEAM & Dreams

In terms of content, the playbook itself focuses on various of the Science, Tech, Engineering Arts and Mathematics portions of STEAM and some Common Core State Standards. One example of this includes physics in football which involves breaking down the concept of force with an activity which asks students to determine how certain moving images of a tackle, or a catch are using push, pull, start, and stop in their movements.

Other pages of the interactive playbook include sections on reading comprehension, health and nutrition, the engineering design process, even a section on the environmental sustainability of Levi’s Stadium.

The included content is designed as a slick, interactive piece of media that seemingly provides simple approaches to various educational concepts, and it was the goal to make it as approachable as possible, according to Director Lovejoy.

“You can send the link home with your kid, send it to the parents. They can self-explore this kind of thing. So, I would really hope that that’s the kind of thing that would end up happening, is that it would be a neat way for families to kind of bond around learning via sports, which is one of the things that we know is more inclined to happen. When you have a subject like sports, like the 49ers, like any other kind of cool way to teach these things, sometimes it can bring parents and kids together in a different way.”

“So, it’s definitely created for that purpose. And I do hope that some of that would happen.”

And Why Focus On STEAM?

Lovejoy says the intention to focus on a football infused STEAM curriculum was in part because of the region, target community, and opportunity to do something different, yet still be in the realm of the world of the 49ers.

“STEAM was just kind of obvious to us at that point. I mean, it’s so important that young people furthest from resource and opportunity understand and develop an appreciation for science and math specifically, but also the other subjects because of how important those things become later on in their education and ultimately what the workforce needs and what jobs are increasingly becoming. So, we just kind of sat back from all that and said it’s important for kids to develop a passion for these things and to learn about these things.”

A 2012 report by the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities found that although Hispanics in STEM related majors were on the rise since the 1990s in the US, there was still inequality in access to high quality math and science instruction from K-8, which in turn lead to discouragement and lack of interest in pursuing the fields of STEM in high school and beyond.

These factors are not relics of the 90s either – they continue to plague lower income communities without access to challenging and quality math and science programs which can lower their self-efficacy and their aspirations to be in STEM/STEAM fields.

By focusing on the STEAM aspects of education and integrating that with football the goal of the 49ers EDU Playbook was to provide something useful to some of the most underrepresented minorities in STEM/STEAM careers.

“Teachers are increasingly being asked to do these things. So, there’s a great kind of synchronicity there. And we can come in and provide something that kind of meets both of those needs. And then also, Levi’s Stadium and the game of football are just wonderful platforms to teach about these things, like when you start to think about how well you can teach about engineering by having kids take a tour of Levi’s Stadium or how cool you can make physics concepts by looking at how a quarterback throws a ball, and a linebacker makes a tackle. So, we just kind of sat back and said, this is the kind of perfect marriage of what the community kind of wants and needs and what we do really well.”

Playbook En Español

Dual immersion English-Spanish lessons have been available since 2015, so it was all a matter of translating and making sure the playbook me the standards of the team.

Lovejoy adds, “We’ve been teaching in Spanish for quite some time. And we always knew that once we put this stuff up in English that we would do it in Spanish as well. And that’s kind of how we got to where we are right now, which is to say, you know, it’s always a strategic thought for us to be developing everything we do in Spanish because we know that the need is high and a lot of our constituents are dual immersion or Spanish speaking primarily, especially a lot of the lower grades.”

In terms of what is in the Spanish version of the playbook, Lovejoy says it is philosophically unchanged from the English version. The only big difference was the focus on getting the language usage and colloquialisms correct.

“How would a native Spanish speaker refer to a lot of the terminology that we use in the building? Like what words would they just use in English? Versus something that’s commonly used when you’re broadcasting NFL football in Spanish. We did a lot of research and looking at that. So, I guess what I would say is the only real changes might just be vocabulary things that we adjusted so that it made it seem more natural as opposed to a more clunky, just straight translation of the material. We were very thoughtful in that sense.”

Now that both language digital playbooks are out in the world Lovejoy says there is always room for new adaptations and changing content.

“We’ve talked about it, and so the answer to that is yes. But there’s no timeline specifically applied to it now. There’s also we have uncertainty about where we would go next. The Bay Area is so diverse. It’s like, what language do you choose? We talked about Mandarin, perhaps, but you can go to any of the pockets that exist in the Bay Area in terms of ethnicity and language and find need and opportunity there. So I would love to kind of continue to get input from our constituents and to keep kind of researching what’s out there and figure it out.”

“But yes, I think it’s very possible that we would do something in another language, especially the textbook, as it exists now. It’s a very natural thing to be able to translate and provide in different languages.”

Director Lovejoy had a final thought regarding this last year and education in general:

“I want to thank teachers. You know, it’s been an incredibly difficult year. It’s been more than a year. And there’s still more to think about because it’s not going to be return to normal in the fall. So, I just I have so much respect for the women and men who go to work every single day and just show up for kids right now because it’s just not easy to do.”

“I really hope that the things that we’re doing can be helpful in some very small way within that. And I always want to encourage educators to reach out to us, communicate with us, let us know what your needs are, because that’s what we’re here for, is to listen and respond and try and support as best we can.”

The 49ers EDU Digital Playbook can be found in both English and Spanish at