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Use the Winter Olympics to engage your students

The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics are right around the corner!
This worldwide event offers excellent opportunities to use the Olympics to inspire your students to learn about many mathematical concepts such as slope.
How can the Olympics help students understand slope? Think of ski slopes! Ask students to watch the Olympics this year on TV and to look for sports that use steep paths (e.g., snowboarding, downhill skiing, alpine skiing, bobsleighing, etc.)!
Back in class, have students recreate replica “ski slopes” using sections of white foam board. Place one end of a foam board against a wall with the opposite end touching the floor at an angle so that it forms the hypotenuse of a right triangle (the right angle is between the wall and the floor).
Refer to the vertical distance (“rise”) from the floor to where the top edge of the board touches the wall as the y-intercept. Refer to the horizontal distance (“run”) starting at the wall and to the bottom of the board farthest away from the wall as the x-intercept.
Slope is a number that describes both the direction and the steepness of a straight line, and it is the ratio of the vertical change in the “y” distance divided by the horizontal change in the “x” distance. Do students notice changes in the steepness of the “ski slope” when the board is raised and/or lowered along the wall?
Add a “skier” by gluing 2 Popsicle sticks together for skis and adding a finger puppet to the top of the skis (or use one tongue depressor with a finger puppet to make a snowboarder).
Students can set up their ski paths along the wall and record the path’s rise, run, and slope on graph paper. They place their skier at the top of their path (skis pointing downhill), and release the skier down the path. Students rearrange a different slope for their ski path and repeat recording the path’s rise, run, and slope. They then observe the performance of the skier on each new path, noting whether the skier slows down or speeds up. They write the equation of each line in slope-intercept form and label the linear equation representing each line on the graph.
Students reflect on how the speeds of their skiers were affected by the changes in the slopes of their ski paths. They could also report on what they learned about slopes and other mathematical concepts from the Olympic Games (click on this LINK for more information about ski slopes at the 2018 games).
“Go for the Gold” with slopes at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games! Use this golden opportunity to create connections with math concepts and winter sports!

For more ideas, be sure to check out RAFT’s Idea Sheet “Slippery Slopes.”
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