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Plan your own olympic maths activities

Wednesday, 6 June 2012
I recently worked with Witham Academy to plan some Olympic themed maths, with lots of practical and fun ideas being shared by the staff. We found that there were many ‘ready-made’ Olympic resources online to use in the classroom, and, as always, the problem was finding those that suited the maths they wanted to teach for the children in their class.

Thinking about this, most ideas need adapting anyway so it may be better to actually approach it in a different way.

Here are two possible approaches to developing your own activities:

Olympic rings :png

1. Start with data from the Olympics

There’s such a lot out there, but the official London 2012 site is a good starting point, with all the sports as easy-to-see icons. Select a sport icon and then ‘Equipment' and 'History' and your own questions and problems can be generated from the information here.

For example, for weightlifting I liked this fact:

            There are 1630 discs ranging in weight from 0.5kg to 25kg.

So much maths can come from this one fact:

• Using only whole and half kilogram weights how many different weight discs could there be between 0.5kg and 25kg?

• Using any combination of these discs, how many different ways can you make 50kg?

• Each bar has an equal number and size of weights on both ends. Which discs can be placed on each end to make a total weight of 20kg using 1 weight at each end, 2 weights at each end, 3 weights at each end…….

Once you’ve started you’ll come up with loads of questions!

2. Start with a maths focus

      What is it you need to teach in this unit?
      How would you have taught it without the Olympics?
      Are there any open tasks, investigations or problems you would use?
      Can any of these maths activities be adapted into an Olympic context?

To give you an example, I used the well-known activity ‘Kieron’s cats’ from ‘Mathematical Challenges for able pupils’. I decided which sport to adapt it to, and chose weightlifting. This is the adapted activity:

Kieron is a weightlifter.
He has three training bars each a different weight.
The first and second bars weigh 7kg altogether.
The second and third bars weigh 8kg altogether.
The first and third bars weigh 11kg altogether.

• What is the weight of each bar?

Trial and improvement and logical thought will help answer this – name the bars ab and c and children can start with what they can see: a + b = 7 and a + c = 11 so a must be bigger than b. Try out an example: If a = 6, then b = 1 and c = 7. This can’t be correct as 6 + 7 does not equal 11. If a = 5, then b = 2 and c = 6. This is correct as 5 + 6 = 11

By the way, it is worth showing the London 2012 weightlifting video as an introduction to the sport – it only lasts a minute and a half and gives a great flavour of this event. 

Related articles

A little sporting logic for the Olympics
A mystery to use with any sports realted topic, six clues ready to use. 

Maths, the Olympics and NRICH
A great website with lots of problem solving activities linked to sports day and the Olympics

Maths ideas for Sports day and the Commonwealth Games
Activities based on the athletics track for outside or in the classroom
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