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Olympics STEM Resources

Olympics: Explore STEM with children

The Paris Olympics are almost here 26 July – 11 August. This exiting sporting event happens once every four years, which means most young children will never have explored it before. As an early childhood educator or early primary teacher, the every Olympic sporting event offers rich and captivating opportunities to engage your children in STEM conversations and hands-on exploration that develop their critical thinking, creativity, and STEM identities. (You can also join our Facebook group “Early STEM Educators Network” to exchange ideas with other educators about the STEM and the Olympics.)

RELAY: This Instagram reel is lots of fun and very silly, but it’s also a great springboard to share with children to spark STEM conversations. For example, ask the children:

🏃 Why is a baton the best tool for a relay?

🏃 What are its properties?

🏃 What object would make a good replacement?

🏃 What made the other objects difficult for the runners?

Don’t miss the Olympic relays coverage 8-10 August.

CANOE: How exciting are canoe slalom events?! Rushing rapids, super speed, and an obstacle course all-in-one. Plenty of anticipation and excitement as you watch the paddlers maneuver their canoes to the finish line! You can recreate a small-scale canoe slalom with your children to examine the force of the water, the strength of the paddler, and the obstacles to navigate.

You will need:

  • A water trough, tray, or tub (ideally 5cm or more in depth)

  • Aluminium foil (to make canoes)

  • Straws or a handheld fan 

  • Materials to use for obstacles: large rocks or stones, plastic tubes, water bottles etc. 

  • Garden hose (connected to water)

Instructions: 

  • Make canoes using the aluminium foil. This video may provide some inspiration for how these could look. 
  • Decide which end of the trough will be the start and which will be the end. You might like to mark the finish line. Place your obstacles in your water trough, ensuring they are weighed down. You don’t want them to float away in the water! 
  • Add your obstacle objects and add water to the trough so that the top 2-3cm of the obstacles are visible above the water line. 
  • Support children to navigate their canoe through the water trough from the start to the finish line by blowing air at their canoe through their straw (or using a small handheld fan). Watch out for the obstacles!
  • Want to add some rushing rapids? Children can direct the hose (turned on) into the trough to create choppy water. You could also use a hand-held balloon pump or any other type of air pump. 

Don’t miss the Olympic canoe coverage: 27 July-3 August

DIVING: Have you noticed that Olympic divers don’t splash when they enter the pool? Explore this by setting up a water trough and letting children drop items from different heights to observe each splash. What makes big splashes? What about small?

🏊 Observe the divers: Is there something in their shape as they enter the water that means little splash? What objects have a similar shape? 

Don’t miss the Olympic diving coverage: 27 July-10 August

Rhythmic gymnastics is a fantastic example of the link between maths and music.  

GYMNASTICS: Rhythmic gymnastics involves gymnasts performing to music. They often use apparatuses like a hoop, ball, clubs or ribbons. Can you spot the maths? Gymnasts must move in time to the music, recognise the pattern in the beat, and ensure they are timing their movements correctly. Without careful timing, it will be hard for a gymnast to successfully complete their sequence. Without excellent spatial awareness, gymnasts won’t be able to move their bodies within designated floor space or catch or move their apparatus.  

Explore this maths with children by: 

🤸 Watch a clip of a rhythmic gymnast performing a routine.  

🤸 Encourage the children to clap along to the beat of the music and watch how the gymnast responds to the beat in their routine. Look for any patterns in their movements. For instance, does the gymnast do something before each throw an apparatus? Or before or after each jump? 

🤸 Explore what it’s like to throw and catch a ball or hoop to the beat of a song. Try with songs of different tempos. Try throwing the ball/hoop high, clapping once, and catching the ball again. How many claps can children do? 

🤸 Creating a performing space by creating a square with masking tape around a soft floor space. Invite the children to perform a simple floor routine with age-appropriate movements (e.g. hopping, jumping, rolling, skipping) and keep it within the designated square. Support the children to think about and reflect on what they need to do to keep inside the square. 

Don’t miss the Olympic diving coverage: 8-10 August

BADMINTON: Have you watched a Badminton tournament before? The projectile that is hit is called a shuttlecock, or ‘birdie’. One side of the shuttlecock is shaped like a ball and made of cork, the other side is a cone shape and made out of feathers (these can be real or synthetic). Watching the shuttlecock as it flies around during a game of badminton can be a great provocation for STEM exploration. You can think about: 

🏸 Why is it that the ball side always connects with the racket? 

🏸 What is the purpose of the feathers on the shuttlecock? 

🏸 Why is the shuttlecock shaped that way? 

🏸 How might the shuttlecock perform different if it was made out of different materials? e.g. if the cork ball was a large marble.  

Invite children to engage in hands-on exploration by: 

  • Exploring a shuttlecock in real life. What do they notice? 
  • Comparing the shuttlecock to other balls used in sports with rackets/bats, e.g. tennis, ping pong, golf, cricket, etc. 
  • Offer children a material buffet including materials such as ping pong balls, corks, feathers, cotton wool balls, paper, and any other recycled materials. Encourage them to try to make their own shuttlecock and test out their performance! 

Interested adults may like to read this article that looks into the physics of shuttlecocks. It includes some fascinating graphs and pictures.

Don’t miss the Olympic diving coverage: 27-31 July

Develop your STEM skills with our pedagogy-based STEM PD:

Facebook Group: Little Scientists Early STEM Educators Network
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