The sun is finally starting to shine in my area of the country. Whether you are still snowed in or digging out shorts, spring fever is in full swing. When students' minds start to wander, but you are knee-deep in test-prep, how can you keep them focused and on task? Provide a learning experience that incorporates sports! No matter the season, tying topics kids love to learning is a great way to amp up enthusiasm. My class expanded our sports knowledge, practiced close reading, and honed some of the eight mathematical practice standards using a skateboard smorgasbord of activities.
A few months ago, my students read part of an article in our reading kit about skateboards in PE classes. The article was a hit, and we used it for building connections in reading. I was thrilled when I saw a skateboarding math theme in NCTM’s “Math by the Month” article published in Teaching Children Mathematics. Using their starter ideas, I built activities with skills that my students need to master and added reading and art to the lessons. Though we worked with skateboarding, the concept is easy to adapt to any sport or interest your students might have.
We rolled into our lesson by revisiting the full text of the Weekly Reader article “School of Skate.” Students used close reading strategies to read and dissect the text. We reviewed and I modeled annotating the text. Students were given questions similar in style to our tests. I built questions using a set of question stems that closely mirror what our state assessment uses. Then, students were challenged to write a summary of the article, a skill we are working on for our state assessment. Students were engaged with the reading and happy to share their opinions on skateboarding in PE, even when we used a rubric to evaluate the summaries. They learned new vocabulary throughout the skateboarding lessons that we tied to math problems and which they are still making connections to through other literature. Several students found books in the library on skateboarder Tony Hawk and one even brought in an article from Scholastic News they had found online. You know a lesson is a success when they research on their own!
Next, we used each of the proposed topics from NCTM’s Teaching Children Mathematics. First, students were tasked with finding their height to determine what size skateboard they would need to buy. I had several measurement tools available, but allowed students to select which tool they would use. After they measured themselves with a partner, I helped clear up any measurement misunderstandings and we discussed which tool worked best and why. Students had to provide a written explanation of their reasoning. Using a poll of teachers and students on their skateboard size, students had to record data in a self-created table and use it to make a graph of their own design.
Students went on to collect more skateboard data and develop a Venn diagram and then answer open-ended questions similar to those on our state assessment. Students had to show their math work, but also explain their reasoning in writing. The best part was that each day, students were ecstatic to get to “skateboard time” and explore math through a sport they knew little about. They couldn’t wait to get done with “real” math so that they could do the fun stuff! Use our "Select a Deck" and "Street or Vert?" worksheets.
The last math task I created was a series of questions requiring students to use a grid for their responses. I developed a variety of problems that are like our assessments, but looked up true skateboarding facts. Students were thrilled to attack each problem and stunned at some of the fun facts they discovered. I had students work in small groups with ground rules stating that each person in the group had to be able to explain how to work the problem. They could only come to me when the entire group needed help. I had the most cohesive group work ever! Students bonded over learning new information in a fun way.
The eight mathematical practice standards were in full swing by having students select their own tools, explain their reasoning, and develop their own means of displaying data. I’ll be honest: it took the control-freak in me a lot of deep breaths to keep from jumping in and “rescuing” several kids, but in the end they are better off and much more knowledgeable about problem-solving in measurement!
I have a problem with “Fun Friday” being a day to knock off and not learn. We have way too little valuable learning time to throw away a half-day each week. I always try to do something slightly less taxing while still engaging students. Skateboards provided the perfect vehicle for a Fun Friday with learning embedded.
When all our work was done, I gave students a paper skateboard cut to the actual dimensions of a child-sized deck. I asked students if they knew M. C. Escher, and after the outcry of “Usher!” died down, we looked at the symmetrical, mathematical works of Escher. I had students create designs to be replicated on their skateboard, and they made their own deck look like a work of M. C. Escher to proudly display alongside their math and reading work. They were so interested in the idea that math could be art that I pulled out my copy of Math-terpieces and they learned some more! See how we did it with our lesson plan.
The point isn’t skateboarding, though we had a great time wheeling through the topic. Find a topic that interests you and your kids. Find articles, biographies, research, and statistics. Turn learning into an integrated event that encourages engagement and you’ll be amazed at the level of collaboration and tasks that students can conquer.
Exploratorium Skateboard Science — the science of motion with video and lesson plans.
Skater Math — A fun way to practice math facts from Hooda Math.
Skateboard Engineering Project — Lesson plans from the Kids' Science Challenge that include national standards and the laws of motion.
Skateboarding Math — A fun YouTube video showing how skateboarding can relate to mathematical questions. Challenge your students to get techy and make one of their own!
Skateboard Flex — See how a real skateboard designer uses math.
What are your favorite ways to keep learning fun and engaging?