Originally published Dec. 19, 2022 by MIT News.
By Danna Lorch
It’s highly unusual for MIT students to be encouraged to throw one another to the floor, but that’s exactly what was happening during a lab that met in the Wrestling Room at the duPont Athletic Center at MIT in November.
After learning some basic judo moves and pairing off, students were instructed to shift their body weight and apply force all the way from their feet to their hands. “Your goal is to take your opponent down without hurting them,” explained Jennifer Light, the Bern Dibner Professor of the History of Science and Technology.
The session was just one meeting of many comprising Light’s experimental new course, STS.014 (Embodied Education: Past, Present, and Future). The premise of the class is that students think with both their brains and their bodies, and to explore how connecting academic subjects with movement could lead to stronger learning outcomes in K-12 education systems.
“It’s like we’re dancing,” laughed one student before gracefully pushing her partner backwards onto a soft mat. Thierry Lincou, head coach of the MIT Squash Team, who is also hoping to revive the school’s judo club, yelled, “The mat is your best friend,” demonstrating how to brace a fall by slapping the rubbery foam with one arm at a precise 45-degree angle.
At Light’s direction, he and the students had just finished reading “Fight Like a Physicist: The Incredible Science Behind Martial Arts,” by Jason Thalken — and it showed. As they were learning to take down their partners, they were also viscerally experiencing Newton’s laws of motion and other physics concepts.