5 Fresh Olympic Activities That Teach Math

If you can’t tell, we’ve got some serious Olympic fever at WeAreTeachers. (Just 32 days until the games kick off in London, but who’s counting?) While the Olympics offer learning connections across the curriculum, we get especially excited by all […]

If you can’t tell, we’ve got some serious
Olympic fever at WeAreTeachers. (Just 32 days until the games kick off in London, but who’s counting?) While the Olympics offer learning connections across the curriculum, we get especially excited by all of the high-interest, relevant math opportunities for kids. Here are some of our favorite activities that promise to build math skills, Olympic knowledge, and teamwork.

1. Gold Medal Chains

Best for: Grades K–3

What you need: White and yellow paper strips, tape, newspaper or websites with Olympic statistics

What to do: Divide the class into groups. Assign each group to track the gold medals won by a specific country over the course of the Olympics (for example, the United States, France or Uruguay). Groups should write the names of their countries on white paper strips, and then tape the ends of the strips together to form a loop. Each time that country wins a gold medal, the group should add one of the yellow paper strips to the chain. Throughout the Olympics, you can create a quick graph by laying the paper chains on the floor or attaching them to a bulletin board. Ask students questions about the graph, such as how many medals a country has to win to catch up with another.

2. A Split-Second Victory

Best for: Grades K–3

What you need: A stopwatch that measures hundredths of a second, chart paper

What to do: As a class, discuss how timed Olympic events, including sprinting and swimming, are often won by hundredths of a second. Invite students to think about how much time that really is. How many times can they clap their hands in one half of a second? In one tenth? Record students’ guesses on chart paper. Then try it out. Have children clap their hands while you use the stopwatch as a timer. Were their guesses accurate? Why or why not? How does this activity impact the way children view certain Olympic events?

3. Lift It to the Limit

Best for: Grades 3–5

What you need: Small counters, manipulatives or weights

What to do: Talk with the class about the weightlifting events at the Summer Olympics. Together, research the weights lifted by the gold, silver and bronze medal winners for one event. Challenge small groups to use the counters or manipulatives to represent each of these weights. (For example, a group might choose two 10-centimeter Cuisenaire rods and one five-centimenter rod to represent 250 kilograms). Ask the groups to explain their reasoning to the class. Use a scale to show that the various representations do indeed weigh more or less than one another.

4. Favored to Win

Best for: Grades 6–8

What you need: Access to Olympic statistics, online or at the library

What to do: Ask students what they know about newscasters and others making predictions about who will win a certain event. How are these predictions made? What information is used to make the guesses more accurate? Talk about various data including past performance, competitive analysis and Olympic history. Then invite small groups to each predict the winner of an upcoming event. The groups should use the same data points you discussed to make their guesses. Don’t forget to tune into the action to see if students are right!

5. Delivering the News

Best for: Grades 9–12

What you need: Access to Olympic coverage and statistics

What to do: As a class, talk about the various ways information is displayed during Olympic coverage. Infographics, tables, movie montages—what presentations are the most compelling and why? Have small groups use the raw data from an event in this summer’s games to create their own newsworthy report. Challenge the groups to use certain calculations in their research. Then have students deliver their presentations to another class in a special Olympic roundup.

Question for you: Will you use the Olympics as an opportunity to work on math skills? Tell us how below!

Posted by WeAreTeachers Staff

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