Olympic swimmer Ledecky promotes STEM education at DC middle school

As STEM becomes more of a focus for D.C. students, the public school system is looking for interesting ways to teach science lessons.

So on Monday, it turned to an Olympic champion, who stopped by with a program called STEM Forward. 

Who better to help teach the science of water than swimmer Katie Ledecky, who has seemingly spent about half her life in a pool?

“It’s always fun to connect with students and see their excitement about learning and STEM. And it’s fun to do some of those experiments,” the 10-time Olympic medalist told WTOP. 

She did numerous experiments with the STEM Forward team, which is a partnership with Discovery Education and Panasonic, at Eliot-Hine Middle School in Northeast.

On Monday, Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky conducts a science experiement in front of a crowd of D.C. students. (WTOP/Luke Lukert)

She was on stage in front of hundreds of kids showing how water tension can hold a jar full of water upside down without spilling — as long as you have a bit of mesh covering the opening. 

“We talked about adhesion and cohesion and surface tension and tried to connect some of the different properties of water to swimming-related things,” Ledecky said after the demonstrations. 

They also demonstrated its light-refracting qualities with a few experiments that wowed the kids.

She tried to emphasize the importance of science, technology, engineering and math in every field imaginable, including athletics. 

“Everyone’s using technology these days. There’s so much data in sports and other workplaces,” said Ledecky. “So just trying to get the students excited and curious. Developing those problem-solving skills, I think, is the most important thing so they feel comfortable and confident.” 

She also had a lot of fun messing with the school’s principal by lightly alluding that they would pop a water balloon over her head by getting close with a lighter. But it was all just a lesson to show how water was better able to absorb heat and energy, much to the dismay of the middle schoolers. 

Beyond STEM, Ledecky also shared some advice on how they, too, could one day lead their Olympic dreams. 

“You got to work hard and set big goals for yourself. Track your progress and see how close you can get to those big goals,” Ledecky said.

She did admit that many just wanted to hold one of her seven Olympic gold medals. 

Luke Lukert

Since joining WTOP Luke Lukert has held just about every job in the newsroom from producer to web writer and now he works as a full-time reporter. He is an avid fan of UGA football. Go Dawgs!

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