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Olympic Records

Age 11 to 14
Challenge Level

Why do this problem?

This problem gives students the opportunity to make sense of graphical data and challenges them to apply their own knowledge about athletics to explain and interpret key features of the graphs.

Possible approach

Arrange the class in groups of three or four, and give each group the ten graphs.

Alternatively, you could show the graphs using this Powerpoint Presentation.
"I'd like you to look at the graphs and work out which Olympic athletics event each graph represents. The graphs all show how the Olympic records have changed since the modern Olympics began."
Give the groups plenty of time to look at all the graphs, discuss them and start to make sense of which events they could be.

While they are working, circulate and listen to their reasoning. If some groups are stuck, here are some useful prompts:
  • What can you deduce about the event if the record increases over time?
  • What about events where the record decreases over time?

After they have had sufficient time to consider the graphs, ask them to write down a list of what events they think each represents.
Collect the lists from each group. 
"Most of you thought graph 1 was ... and a few groups thought it was ... or ...
Does anyone have any convincing reason why it might be ...? Or why it might NOT be ...?"
Look at each of the graphs in this way to draw out the key points of the graphs and the convincing reasoning each group came up with.
If a computer room is available, groups may wish to look up Olympic record data online to check which event gave rise to each graph.

Possible support

You may wish to hand out this list of the events and ask students to work out which belongs with each of the ten graphs.

Alternatively, this card sort activity contains the ten graphs and the events on cards for students to match up.

Possible extension

Ask students to carry out some extra research in order to explain unusual features in the graphs, such as:

  • Drastic changes
  • Long gaps
  • Absence of data in the early twentieth century
  • Records that go both up and down

Students could create their own set of graphs and challenge the rest of the class to work out which Olympic athletics events they relate to.