The PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games begin on February 9. Every two years Olympic competition sparks excitement in sports fans around the world. But the Games aren’t just a spectator sport. They also provide an excellent opportunity for our students to actively engage in learning about sports, culture, and how math, science, engineering and technology are a integral part of every facet of these competitions.

Encourage your students to think like a scientist or engineer while they watch the Games. In the classroom, provide opportunities for them to investigate how STEM is a critical part in either the competition itself or in  the athletes’ needs as they participate in their events. Below are some ideas for building your own integrated Olympics-themed STEM lessons. These ideas can be easily modified to adjust to different ability levels of students. In each case, students should be able to use the data they collect as evidence to support their claims.

Student Activities Using Olympic Data:

  1. Compare the differences between winning athletes’ scores in a specific medal competition in this Olympics with the previous 3 Olympics. Is it possible to use this data to predict the winners score in the next Olympic?
  2. Compare how athletes’ scores have changed over time for a specific medal competition (e.g. ice skating, snowboarding). Are improvements in that sports’ equipment the reason for this change?
  3. Identify the competing countries’ capital cities, where they are located and in what time zones they reside. Is the difference in time a factor in that country’s athletic performance?
  4. Rank the competing countries in order of how many athletes they entered compared to the number of medals they won. Does having more athletes at the Olympics lead to more medals being won?
  5. Compare the capital cities’ temperatures with your city or town to discover which countries are hotter or colder than where you live. Do athlethes from colder countries win more medals than athlethes from warmer countries in the Winter Olympics?
  6. How does average daily temperature and annual winter precipitation data compare among the Winter Olympic host cities for the last 5 Olympics. Make a case that your city could OR could not be a possible host city based on your findings.
  7. Compare the number of medals won for different competing countries with that country’s GDP. Does a country’s economic success translate into Olympic success.
  8. Chose an Olympic event and research how advances in technology or engineering have improved the sport. Use data from past Olympics to validate your claim.

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These options give you and your students a variety of topics to choose from. Are your students interested in a specific sport or athletes’ performance? Are they fascinated by weather data? Or would the time of day/ time zone data work well in a unit you are planning on learning to tell time? These data sets serve each of those areas of interest. Use probing or intriguing quesitons that can provoke students to take a greater interest or incites their curiosity. Do they recognize how technological advances and improvements in engineering design impact the field of sports competition?

Think of these activities as inspiration. You can use the list to brainstorm additional ideas with your colleagues. Look for ways to make connections between the Games and your students’ interests.

Ideas for Student Discourse:

  1. Make a presentation to the class sharing your conclusion (with or without a poster board)
  2. Create an infographic (pictures and labels) that conveys your claim and cites the evidence.
  3. Write an opinion piece using your data as supporting evidence for your position.
  4. Form a discussion panel with others to answer questions about your investigation
  5. Choose a new technology and describe how it might impact furutre Olympics

Every two years the Olympic Games give us new STEM teaching opportunities. Use this year’s events as an opportunity to spark curiosity and discovery. I’m excited to see how these STEM investigative activities inspire my students to think more like scientists.

Request a SAMPLE of Pearson’s new Elevate Science Program for Grades K-8 

About Author Michael Comer – After teaching middle school science in Dobbs Ferry, NY and Riverside RI, Michael joined publisher Silver Burdett and Ginn as a regional science/mathematics consultant, developing an expertise for providing rich and meaningful workshops that linked the facets of inquiry teaching with hands-on learning using manipulatives. He was an instructor for the Summer Science Seminar for over 10 years at Bridgewater State College in Bridgewater, MA where he worked with teachers across K-8.  In addition to his professional career, Michael has authored two books to support science teaching and learning. Developing Visual Literacy in Science K-8 was published by NSTA Press (2010) to highlight the importance of developing student’s strategies for interpreting graphical representations. The second book, STEM Lesson Essentials (2013) published by Heinemann Publications, focuses on different instructional approaches for implementing STEM lessons into the classroom experience. He is currently working on a follow-up book, STEM Lesson Guideposts designed to guide teachers in creating their own STEM lessons. Michael has presented internationally, including leading science professional development in Puerto Rico, St. Marteen, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and his latest work leading a two-year Professional Development series for Master Science Teachers in Thailand for the Institute for the Promotion of Science and Technology.

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Michael Comer

Michael Comer

STEM Author

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