Getting outside for PE at this time of year usually involves some form of athletics, even if only in the form of practice for the fast-approaching Sports Day. This presents an excellent opportunity to practise measuring which is such an important but sometimes neglected part of teaching measures. Also, we obtain relevant data that can then be used back in the classroom.
The activities in school athletics will usually involve timing the running of various distances and measuring lengths when jumping and throwing. Some capacity can also be introduced in the form of walking or running while carrying cups or buckets of water.
Many schools now have access to iPads where the stopwatch function can be used to time events, or traditional stopwatches can be used. Pupils often have a poor grasp of time so estimates of their predicted times could be provided by pupils themselves before they run a distance, which can then be compared with their actual time. Providing pupils with some record times can also help them to estimate their own times although they are often far more optimistic than realistic when it comes to this activity!
Long measuring tapes are useful for measuring throws and jumps, but if these are not available, metre sticks can be used by several children working together to mark the ends of each metre. Much younger children could measure by placing one foot in front of each other although it would be best if the pupils doing this had approximately the same size feet. It would be better for the measure to be shoes rather than feet to avoid confusion later on when pupils are introduced to imperial measures. When the measurement is between shoe lengths, the pupil can decide if it is less than, more than or equal to half a shoe in order to round the measurement.
If preferred, the data does not need to be recorded as belonging to individuals. Many schools operate a system of home tables or home groups, and a colour could be assigned to each of these. Any data collected can then be recorded as a group rather than as individuals.
Using the data in the classroom
Younger pupils can practise the use of language while working with the lengths and times. The words shorter and longer can be provided on cards and the lengths or times can also be provided on cards so that sentences can be made using the numbers and one of the words. Also, cards containing <, > and = signs can be provided to create number sentences involving the collected data.
The data can be ordered within groups or on the floor, playground or pegged on to string if the whole class data is being used. Ask children what they notice such as how many numbers start with a particular multiple of 10. Encourage pupils to think of their own questions such as what is the total length run or jumped or the total time taken for each group.
When comparing pupil times and lengths with sporting records, they can work out how much faster and how many times faster are the records, since these two comparisons can sometimes be confused. The duration of events can also be compared in a variety of ways including between pupils within the same group, within the class, by age or gender.
Older pupils can work with the data in smaller units, such as cm or even mm so that they can work with larger numbers. There is also the opportunity to work with decimals when the lengths are expressed as metres. If appropriate, speeds can be compared, and this also provides an opportunity to look at speeds according to different units such as centimetres or metres per second or metres per hour.
Younger pupils can be helped to construct pictograms, block diagrams and tables. Some work may need to be carried out on the data first so that the focus for younger pupils is on multiples of 2, 5 and 10. Pupils can then ask and answer questions based on the displayed data.
Older pupils can construct bar charts based on the data to answer the questions that they have created. Mean averages can also be calculated for different categories of pupils. It is worth discussing how meaningful and useful an average is if the data is very spread out or contains any extreme measures.
As pupils take part in athletics, it helps them to put athletics records into perspective. Older pupils could gather data for world records in various events themselves; in fact, this could be set as homework. The sites listed below contain records data (including historical data) on events in which primary age pupils are most likely to be participating.
For a more realistic set of comparison records for themselves, this site contains records for five to nineteen-year-old students: http://age-records.125mb.com/
Click here for an activity to use with your class that includes records for the 60m, 100m, 400m and 800m races. Long jump and ball throw records are also included.
NRICH also provides two excellent Olympic events reasoning activities for older pupils. The first activity involves various events which need to be matched with their record measurements. This makes them think about suitable measurement units for particular events. https://nrich.maths.org/8318
The second activity involves graphs of records over time for various events and pupils need to say which event the graph is describing. This makes them think about the fact that records involving time will be getting shorter while those involving length will be getting longer. https://nrich.maths.org/7489
Sports Day Organisation
If you teach older pupils, they could organise the sports day as a practical maths activity. Initially, they would need to consider what questions need to be answered such as:
How many pupils are taking part?
How many teams will be involved?
How many pupils will there be on each team?
How many adults will be available to help?
How much time needs to be allowed for each activity?
How much time needs to be allowed between activities?
How much time is required for announcements and prize giving at the end?
Pupils could construct a timetable for the event as well as a scale drawing of where the events or activities will be taking place. If refreshments are being provided, quantities and costings could also be calculated.
Once you start thinking about incorporating some maths into your PE athletics lessons, pupils themselves, being naturally curious, will often suggest questions that they would like answered. As the pupils get older, these can be more open-ended investigations that they can tackle in groups, with you acting more as a facilitator rather than an instructor. Pupils’ own questions can be so motivating and interesting for pupils so make sure to keep a note of all suggestions for future use, even if they cannot all be tackled at the time. In fact, some could be used within a maths club setting during the summer months.