Science of the Winter Olympics: Engineering the Halfpipe

Imagine locking both feet onto a board, hurtling down a vertical face and up the opposing one before becoming airborne, where you twist and flip with near abandon. Now, imagine doing that with the equivalent weight of five people clinging to your back! If you can (and you have fiery red hair) then you might be channeling Shaun White—the former gold medalist competing in the 2014 Olympic halfpipe event on February 11. To prep yourself, take a look at Shaun White & Engineering the Halfpipe, one of ten videos from NBC Learn/NSF focused on the science of and engineering behind the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
Connected STEM lesson plans from NSTA complete the prep work, giving you a head start on incorporating real-world events into your instruction. Download them at the links below. One of the things you’ll notice about the Inquiry Guide, based loosely on the research of Brian Hand at the University of Iowa, is that the traditional investigative framework of scientific methods is replaced by a more student-driven approach fueled by your prompts. The idea of students making claims based on their own investigative evidence gives students more ownership of their results, which generally results in greater depth of understanding. This structure also gives a lot of leeway for tailoring the inquiries to your students. The lessons target middle school, but you’re teaching fourth grade? No worries. Your fourth-graders’ responses to the prompts naturally adjust the level of the inquiry while still building understanding. Ditto for the other end of the scale where students with more sophisticated math and science backgrounds will naturally ramp up the level of the inquiry. Use the “Grades 4–12” or “Grades 7–12” label at the top of each lesson plan as a guide.
Get started today! The series is available cost-free on and Perhaps you’ll be inspired to dye your hair fiery red!
Image of Shaun White in a 2009 competition, courtesy of Eric Magnuson.
Shaun White & Engineering the Halfpipe highlights the challenges of designing and engineering the halfpipe, a skiing and snowboarding venue, and Shaun White, a 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympics gold medalist in the snowboard halfpipe event.
Lesson Plans
Engineering the Halfpipe Integration Guide spells out the STEM in the video and gives you mini-activities and ideas for research, teamwork, projects, and interdisciplinary connections.
Engineering the Halfpipe Inquiry Guide models a science inquiry into the factors determining centripetal acceleration AND models an engineering design inquiry in which students design a model snowboarder and venue that gives the snowboard the most “air time.”
You can use the following form to e-mail us edited versions of the lesson plans: [contact-form 2 “ChemNow]

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