STEM and the Olympics: Let’s Talk Basketball

The Winter Olympics are starting Friday, February 4, 2022. There are lots of different sports that are part of the winter Olympics but there is one thing they all have in common: STEM! That’s right, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are at the foundation of every sport imaginable. As in life where STEM can be seen everywhere, STEM is in every sport. For example, in speed skating, do you think they use math? You bet they do! In downhill skiing, are engineering skills used? Absolutely! Let’s take a closer look at just one way STEM is involved in one of the Olympics’ most popular sports: basketball. (You’re right, summer is always on our minds, even when it comes to Olympic sports!)

Activity: Bounce With the Minions

With this activity, campers will learn about energy transfer and conservation: inertia in practice vs. theory. STEM campers will conduct experiments measuring the total height, number, and duration of a bouncing basketball dropped from a variety of heights to a variety of surfaces, and attempt to establish patterns in the behaviour of the ball.

Your Challenge

The Minions have invited LeBron James and the L.A. Lakers to come and play an exhibition basketball game with them in their new gymnasium. Gru has promised to let the winners have the fart gun for as long as they want! But they have a problem:  the Minions are not sure what type of floor to put in the gym. They need your STEM skills to help them figure out what surface will allow the basketballs to bounce properly.

Your Objective

To identify the types of energy and energy transformations inherent in the equipment, environment and game play of basketball.

Materials Needed
  • Basketball, inflated to the recommended air pressure listed on the ball
  • Tape measure
  • Digital timer
  • Masking tape (non-marking)
  • Pencil and paper

  1. Find a carpeted surface next to a wall.
  2. From the floor, measure 120 cm up the wall and mark the spot with masking tape.
  3. Holding the ball against the wall, lining up the bottom of the ball with the top of the tape.
  4. From the measured height, drop the ball. At the same time, start your timer.
  5. Count the number of times the ball bounces until it stops bouncing and comes to a rest.
  6. Record the total time the ball is moving, from the time it drops until the time it stops bouncing.
  7. Using the same ball and surface, repeat steps 2-5 but this time from a height of 60 cm.
  8. Now find a hard floor (wood, laminate, concrete) next to a wall.
  9. Repeat steps 2-7, continuing to record all your findings for the different heights and surfaces.
What Did You Learn?
  1. Which surface produced the greater number of bounces? Why do you think that is?
  2. Compare the number of bounces from 120 cm and 60 cm. Did it bounce twice as much from 120 cm as it did from 60 cm? Why or why not?
  3. Now do the same thing with the times from the digital timer. Did the ball bounce for half the time when dropped from 60 cm as compared to 120 cm?
  4. If you dropped the ball from 240 cm, do you think it would produce twice the number of bounces as it did from 120 cm? What about total time bouncing? Why or why not?
Did You Know:

The Guinness World record for longest dribbling is 55 hours and 26 minutes by Pawan Kumar. It took place between December 10 and 12, 2007. 

Did You Know:

Whenever you jump, you spend 71 percent of your time in the top half of the jump. This helps create the floating illusion of hangtime.


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