PUEBLO, Colo. – Amanda Watson watches as her fifth grade students meticulously glance back-and-forth at the pieces of paper in front of them.
The veteran teacher with 16 years of experience smiles as the sound of pencils and paper clash inside the academic arena, otherwise known as Bethel Elementary School in Canton, North Carolina. It sure is different form the sound of bulls and bull riders battling at a Built Ford Tough Series event, but the puzzling questions the students are trying to solve on this fall school day involve the “Toughest Sport on Dirt.”
One of the questions she has posed to her class reads, “The event in Nashville starts at 7:30 p.m. and it is SOLD OUT! At 7:00 p.m., 8,000 people are in their seats. How many people are not at the event yet?”
To solve the math problem, the students have to use the chart provided to see that Bridgestone Arena holds 20,000 people. Therefore, Watson is expecting her students to subtract 8,000 fans from that total to determine that 12,000 people have yet to arrive for the BFTS event.
It is only one way Watson has tried to combine her newfound love of bull riding with her longtime passion for teaching.
“I can incorporate bull riding into everything throughout the day,” Watson says. “How do you calculate Silvano Alves’ riding percentage? The math that is involved with bull riding is limitless really. We learn about volume and stadium capacities (addition/subtraction) and more.
“These bull riding exercises are about engaging them. I want them to be excited about coming to school and to have a lot of self confidence in themselves.”
For the past two years, Watson has taught all kinds of educational topics to her students through the use of the PBR. She has taught volume, weight, genetics, momentum, G-Force and nonfiction writing all with the PBR as an example.
It was 2012 when Watson first looked out onto the arena floor at the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center in Asheville, North Carolina, amazed at what she saw in front of her and her 3-year-old son, Tate.
There were these young men – some in which you could arguably call boys – climbing aboard 2,000 pound animal athletes with no fear of potentially being thrown high into the air or forcefully into the ground with fierce momentum.
There was bewilderment, curiosity, and most of all an adrenaline rush.
What began as a request by her son to go to the bull riding event put on by stock contractor Jeff Robinson evolved into a brand new passion for Watson, who grew up in Cross Lanes, West Virginia, and is the granddaughter of a dairy farmer.
In that moment, there was no way Watson could have realistically thought she could combine her newfound love of bull riding with her long-time passion for teaching.
Still, Watson is always looking for new ways to pique the curiosity and interest levels of her students – she calls herself a “high energy” teacher in the classroom – and figured what could be more mystifying to her students then watching footage of J.B. Mauney, Bushwacker and some of the other top athletes of the PBR?
It began as a slow process implementing PBR information into the classroom. First, she began by giving the students bull nicknames, which led to the class researching about the bull they were named for on the Internet. Eventually, she built math exercises, word problems and other assignments involving the PBR.
“Bull riding and math has been a fun ride,” she explained. “I’ve seen the effects of how bull riding can be powerful in the classroom.”
Of course, video has played a major role. Watson can show highlight reels of Bushwacker, I’m a Gangster Too, Asteroid and other bulls to help teach her students learn about G-Force, momentum and other scientific topics.
Sometimes, she can even pull a clip from the CBS Sports telecast when nine-time World Champion Ty Murray breaks down those same topics.
“It is perfect for forces of motion,” Watson said. “You hear Ty Murray talking about G-Force and momentum. We will work in small groups and I think a lot of it is seeing it. I can tell them all day, but until they see a video or an event it doesn’t set in. Video is a critical part of it.”
Teaching has been embedded in her ever since she was a little kid, Watson added. Her father, Tom McNeel, was a superintendent for years in West Virginia. Her uncles also have experience in the educational system.
Watson, who brought her class on a field trip to Jeff Robinson’s Asheville, North Carolina, ranch in 2013, teaches all subjects in her classroom.
Therefore, she has found different ways to tie bull riding into the curriculum beyond just math and science. She had a daysheet from the Dr Pepper Iron Cowboy V this year that she used to help teach her students how to write subheads and headlines.
It has been a fun and enjoyable whirlwind of an experience for the teacher. Not only did that initial bull riding event in 2012 spark an educational idea, it led to her and her husband, Brad, investing in a few bulls with Robinson, including 2014 Built Ford Tough World Finals bull Mr. Mustachio.
The Watsons also recently bought some heifers with ties to Little Yellow Jacket, Bones and Moody Blues from Tom Teague’s sale.
“My husband loves livestock and loved horses,” Watson said. “We considered it like an investment and something our family could do together.”
Amanda, Brad, Tate and 9-year-old Lettie Jo work together every day to keep their small, budding family of animals fed and ready to go.
Watson has met fellow North Carolina, native, Tiffany Davis before and after going to the 2014 World Finals, one of her future dreams is to buck a bull during the ABBI Women’s Futurity event.
She also hopes that other teachers across the United States, especially in areas with a rich bull riding culture, may consider creating curriculum similar to hers.
Until then though, she continues to keep spreading her latest passion to her North Carolina students inside the classroom.
“Teaching has always been in my blood,” Watson concluded. “I hope bulls in schools become a household thing. I love it. I just love it.”
For more about PBR classroom assignments you can reach Amanda Watson at Watsonbulls@gmail.com
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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