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Bicycle Math

Bicycle Math Activity

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By third grade, most kids can manage bikes pretty well, and a lot of them are bombing around. Especially in our fitness-conscious world, communities are encouraging kids to get out and ride more and more, too.

Back in the classroom, third graders are working on their multiplication, fractions, and division, extending work they started in the early grades. And in social studies, a common third grade topic is the history and geography of your local community. Then in our media, they can read all about the adventures of Tour de France-level speed bikers, tearing up the world's most challenging routes.

Here's a creative way to bring all these worlds together…and support key third grade social studies and math learning while you're at it.

What You Need:

  • Road map of your community
  • Ruler
  • Bike
  • Kid with helmet (and some energy to burn)
  • Watch with second hand (stopwatch is even better)
  • Pen and paper

What You Do:

  1. Pull out an old fashioned paper road map of your community. (Note: this may seem obvious, but with today's GPS systems and mapquest options, it's not! You can usually find maps at a local gas station or a AAA office, or you can download one. No matter what, make sure it's something you can spread out, look at, and write on.)
  2. Review the map legend with your third grader, and make sure she understands major symbols as well as measurements to scale.
  3. Together, mark out a common, safe route that she'd like to ride with you. Use a highlighter to mark it, and then calculate: how long is this route? In some communities, this may be a bike trail; or perhaps a bike path marked off on a street; it may even be a regular route to school. In any case, mark off one mile.
  4. Now get ready to ride, and be sure to bring your watch along, too. When you get to the starting point for your mile, start your stopwatch; click it off when you've passed your “finish” line, and round to the nearest ten or fifteen minutes.
  5. When you're back home, you'll now have time and distance for your ride. So here's the adventure: how many miles per hour did you go? Parents, beware: this can be tricky, and you should plan to help. Furthermore, this is math that third graders usually won't understand well until the second half of the year. Once they get it, though, they're off!
  6. Here's what to do: start by writing down your time and distance at the top of a plain page. On its face, this is easy: your child took a certain amount of time—let's say 15 minutes—to go one mile.
  7. But here's the challenge: how many miles per hour is this?
  8. To reinforce third grade fractions, start by turning the minutes into a fraction of an hour: ¼. Then explain to your child: we know that you could go a mile in ¼ of an hour. How many miles could you go if you could keep going 4 times as long—one full hour? If your child stumbles, pull out the map and see if you can figure it out by tracing a route.
  9. In our example, a third grader rode at 4 miles per hour. Try making a chart and putting it on the fridge. Can he beat this time?
  10. Don't be surprised, of course, if your third grader notices that a car can take him someplace a lot faster than a bike. Sure, that's true…but a car will also burn gas. No problem—this is just another great math opportunity. Use addition and division to calculate miles per gallon and cost per mile…and speed your child into a future full of all sorts of math learning!
Julie Williams, M.A. Education, taught middle and high school History and English for seventeen years. Since then, she has volunteered in elementary classrooms while raising her two sons and earning a master's in school administration. She has also been a leader in her local PTA.

Updated on Jun 28, 2013
Printable Workbooks from Education.com
Find a printable workbook to go along with this fun activity. See Workbooks
See more activities in: Third Grade, Measurement
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