Speed it up

courtesy of www.camogie.ie

Age group 1st – 3rd year, TY

Total time 2hrs

Notes for teachers and parents/carers

This activity sheet is designed to be carried out at home or school under supervision by a teacher or any adult who can help direct the work which involves some basic mathematical calculations. The instructions are directed to the adult. Most of the information needed to answer the questions is given on the main sheet, but we do encourage the students to think for themselves and to research the topic further. Solutions to section 3- Let’s work it out, are provided here. Feel free to adapt this activity as appropriate.

Outline: To learn about speed, velocity and acceleration in relation to sports and exercise

Junior Cycle Curriculum Links

Students should be able to

  • produce and select data, critically analyse data to identify patterns and relationships, identify anomalous observations and justify conclusions (Investigating in Science, The Nature of Science)
  • investigate patterns and relationships between physical observables (Systems and Interactions, Physical World)
  • Represent situations − use tables, diagrams and graphs as a tool for analysing relations with tables diagrams and graphs (Maths, Algebra)
  • interpret graphical summaries of data (Maths, Statistics and Probablity)

Statements of Learning

  • Recognises the potential uses of mathematical knowledge, skills and understanding in all areas of learning

    Describes, illustrates, interprets, predicts and explains patterns and relationships

  • Devises and evaluates strategies for investigating and solving problems using mathematical knowledge, reasoning and skills
  • Observes and evaluates empirical events and processes and draws valid deductions and conclusions
  • Values the role and contribution of science and technology to society, and their personal, social and global importance

Key Skills

  • Managing information and thinking
  • Communicating
  • Being literate
  • Being numerate

1. Love the game

Do you like sports and exercise? What do you play with your friends or do you practice any individual sports? Maybe you like cycling, gymnastics or hip-hop dancing, camogie or swimming? Sport is sometimes seen as more of a boy’s thing, but girls enjoy all sorts of sports just as much. It’s good for everyone’s physical and mental health. You may have noticed that some people have taken up cycling since the pandemic started. Cycling is a great way to get around, without causing climate change, and you can also avoid close contact with others on public transport, as well as keeping your body healthy to fight any disease.

All types of sports and exercise involve lots of science and physics. Even walking and dancing requires some important laws of physics.

(photographer Jeffrey F Lin, Source: www.unsplash.com)

Soccer, camogie and basketball all depend on the players running, stopping, changing direction, speeding up to catch another player with the ball, or slowing down to make a kick, a pass or take a swing at the ball. Let’s find out more about how our bodies use physics in sport.

Do you know how to calculate the speed of any object? Do you remember what velocity and acceleration are? Have a look at the following video and then try the activity below.

Velocity Speed Acceleration

Can you match the three concepts above to the correct definitions below? ( what units are they measured in?)

? = Distance travelled / time taken

? = Final speed – initial speed / time taken

? = The speed of something in a given direction

To learn more about speed, velocity and acceleration see the story of scientist Fabiola Gianotti and the story of motion

Did you know?

  • The fastest recorded tennis serves are over 250km/h.
  • Snowboarders and ice skaters glide on a thin layer of water as their skates and boards heat the snow beneath them.
  • Regular exercise helps boost the immune system

2. Let’s work it out

Let’s try a short experiment with some simple exercises in an open space to practice what we’ve learned. It will take a few minutes to carry this out in a small group, and then we can use our measurements to make some calculations and draw some graphs.

What you need

2 timers/stop-watches, an open space, 3 participants minimum, chalk, pen and pencils, graph paper


You can try this at home with some family members or friends or with your class at school.

1. Draw a starting line (called A), on the ground with some chalk. Measure 10m away from it and draw a line (B). Note what direction B is with respect to A (North, South, East, West, or a combination). How could you find this out? Then measure 10m more in the same direction, and draw a line C. You should now have a straight line divided into two 10 metre sections. ( If your space isn’t this big, you can measure out shorter sections, or feel free to make them longer too! )

A simple experiment to calculate speed, velocity and acceleration of a runner

2. Position a person with a timer/stop-watch at each point B and C. One other participant (the runner) is now going to move from A all the way to C but by two different methods. From A to B, they must speed-walk, and from B to C they must skip. (Feel free to change it around to hopping, running etc)

3. The person at point B will count down to start the experiment. Remember, both timers at points B and C must be started simultaneously as the runner leaves point A. When the runner passes each point, the corresponding timer is stopped. Write down the two times accurately. Note: this may take a little practice, so repeat it a few times to start and stop the timers at the right moment!

4. If you have time, repeat this with a few different runners (rotating with time-keepers perhaps) to have multiple results to compare. With a larger group, groups of 3 can each carry out the same demo, with one runner and two time-keepers. (Each group can calculate just their own results to save time)

5. Back at our desks we can apply our speed, velocity and acceleration equations. First make a table like the one below.

Remember to subtract the final time at point B to get the correct time interval for point C – Time (t) = t(at point C) – t(at point B) )

Time (sec)ABC
Runner 1

0 Sec
9 sec

6 sec = 15 sec – 9 sec
Time (t) = t(at point C) – t(at point B)
Runner 2
Runner 3


We have now measured the times it took our runners to go from A to B, and from B to C. We know our distance between each of the points was 10 metres. Answer the following questions.

  1. What is the speed of each runner at point A?
  2. Calculate the speed of each runner at point B and C.
  3. Graph the changing speeds of each runner, with the time on the x-axis, and distance on the y-axis. There will be 3 points on the graph for each runner. (This could be done all on the same graph on a white board or flip chart paper or individually on pages)
  4. What are the runner’s velocities at point B? Do their velocities change by point C?
  5. What is the acceleration of each runner from point A to B, and then from point B to C?
  6. If you have a few groups carrying out this activity, or were able to repeat it with a few runners, compare how the runners performed. From the graph, can you tell who was the fastest overall? What was the fastest way to move for most runners; skipping, or speed-walking?
  7. Using the graph of one of the runners, calculate what distance they would cover, if they skipped for three seconds longer.

Link to solutions page here

Dr. Merrit Moore – Impossible is nothing

Courtesy of www.Physicsonpointe.com

“Merritt has achieved what some would call ‘the impossible’: a career as a professional ballet dancer and as an academic quantum physicist.” – University of Oxford

Dr. Merritt Moore graduated with Magna Cum Laude Honors in Physics from Harvard and graduated with a PhD in Atomic and Laser Physics from the University of Oxford. She also pursues a professional ballet career, previously with the Zurich Ballet, Boston Ballet, English National Ballet, and Norwegian National Ballet. She was recently awarded Forbes 30 under 30, and she was one of the 12 selected candidates to undergo rigorous astronaut selection on BBC Two “Astronauts: Do you have what it takes?”

Merritt urges that the arts and sciences should not be mutually exclusive, and she inspires young women around the world to pursue their dreams. She has been invited to be the featured speaker at the Forbes Women’s Summit in NY, Princeton Physics Department, panelist for the U.S. Embassy ‘Women in STEM’ Panel in London, and is featured in the bestseller “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls“. 

Invited as artist-in-residence at Harvard ArtLab, Merritt is creating a duet between human dancer and industrial robotic arm. She continues to explores the future of A.I./ machine learning, specifically with dance, and welcomes all forms of collaboration fusing dance, physics and tech. 

Follow Instagram/Twitter @PhysicsonPointe

5. What did you like, what did you learn?

What did you most like/least like about this activity? 

What did you learn about the physics of sports?

What else would you like to learn about the science and physics behind your favorite sports?

Leave a comment on how you liked this activity, on our twitter @SophiaPhysics

6. Sources and Extra Resources 

Science kids – Fun science and technology for kids, Sport Science facts

The twisted physics behind five Olympic sports