World Cup Can Boost Math Skills

Using math during summer activities can keep skills sharp. And, let’s face it; math isn’t usually the first thing on a kid’s mind during summer vacation.

Sporting events, like the World Cup, make it easy to apply math while having fun. Any game that keeps score uses math. Which team is most likely to win?  Determine the probability by dividing the number of times that the team has won by the total number of events.

Ever noticed how a soccer ball (football) is made from several flat shapes? Kids can learn basic geometry by cutting and sewing pieces of cloth together and filling it with a soft material to make an indoor ball. By the way, did you know the shape of a soccer ball is called a “truncated icosahedron?”  You’re kids probably didn’t know either! Look it up with them and find out what it means.

Any geometry whizzes out there? Think from a goalkeeper’s perspective: if an attacking player approaches, where does the goalkeeper stand to prevent a score? How far in front of the goal? What would the position be to maximize reach while diving forward towards the ball rather than sideways? When positioned far from the goal, a goalkeeper can get a single player’s ball more easily, but the attacking player can more easily kick the ball over the goalkeeper. If a second opponent approaches at the same time, that player has a free path to the goal. Whew – that’s a lot of math!

If calculus is your thing, soccer matches are filled with complex aerodynamics. Analyze the way balls curve and swerve through the air. The shape and surface of a soccer ball, and its initial orientation, play a fundamental role in its trajectory. For example, the seams of a soccer ball cause more turbulence than would a perfectly smooth sphere with no seams.

Find more ideas from the NY Times for teaching and learning with the World Cup.