Sad about Tokyo? Have your own “Olympics” at home!

So many highly anticipated events have been canceled in the wake of the Corona Virus. The Summer Olympics was always a favorite of mine to watch as a child and I’m disappointed that we’ll have to wait to see the gymnastics and swimming!

Fortunately, you can bring the Olympic spirit to your own home or classroom with this fun/competitive estimation activity. Not only does this activity help students practice their measurement skills, but it also provides an opportunity to use the metric system like “real” scientists do.

(Note: I was surprised to find that measurement skills and/or use of the metric system is not explicitly stated in the Next Generation Science Standards, but measurement is definitely a fundamental concept necessary for scientific work!)

On to the show….here’s what you need for your Estimation Olympics:


  • An open area
  • A “starting line” (use chalk or masking tape to mark the place)
  • Centimeter measuring tape or ruler
  • 1 paper plate
  • 1 drinking straw
  • 1 cotton ball
  • 1 large container of marbles
  • 1 bowl or beaker of water (large enough to fit a hand inside)
  • 1 sponge
  • Towels (in case there is a spill)
  • A scale that measures in grams
  • A liquid measuring cup that measures in milliliters
  • Graph paper with 1 cm squares
  • Data recording page
  • Estimation Olympics Station Instruction Cards
  • Medals (optional)


The Estimation Olympics includes six activities. You can create stations where students can move through the activities at their own pace or, if you are doing the Olympics at home, you can do one at a time.

  1. Paper plate discus – here you just need a starting line, measuring tape and the paper plate. The contestant throws the plate, estimates the distance, measures, records.
  2. Drinking straw shot put – same basic procedure as the paper plate discus, but now you are throwing the “javelin” (straw) instead of the paper plate.
  3. Cotton ball shot put – again, same basic procedure, but with a cotton ball.
  4. Right-handed marble grab – this one is a little tricky because you need to have a scale set up to measure the mass in grams. Put an empty container on the scale that will hold the marbles and press “tare” to reset the scale to zero. Then place all your marbles in another container and that container full of marbles will be the one contestants reach into to make their grab.
  5. Left-handed sponge squeeze – here you need a sponge soaking in water, a container for squeezing out the water, and device that can measure the water volume in milliliters. It’s probably a good idea to have a towel, as well, in case there are any spills. Contestants reach into the container with the sponge, pick up the sponge, squeeze out as much water as they can into the other container, estimate how much they squeezed out, and then measure the total squeezed out in milliliters.
  6. Big foot contest – here you just need a piece of graph paper and a pencil to trace around the foot. The instructions say to use your bare foot but, for some reason, my students never liked to take off their shoes so I allowed shoes instead as an option. After you trace the foot you estimate how many complete squares the foot tracing covers. I use complete squares only because otherwise we get into lots of debates about decimals and such and we need to keep things simple. Count the actual number of squares and record.

There you go! When I do this activity in class I give paper “medals” for the person in each event with the lowest score (closest estimate) as well as the lowest overall total score.

Some years I have purchased medals, but most times I have student volunteers design and create the medals before class. Since we now are in a situation with plenty of time to fill, designing and creating the medals can be a fun activity in and of itself. Here is a fancy homemade medal activity from the AlphaMom blog:

Or there are lots of paper templates on Pintrest or TeachersPayTeachers that you can use.

Some other ideas to expand this activity for more learning fun:

  • Have each “contestant” select a country to represent. Each contestant can then research their country and create a flag or share something about that country before the competition.
  • Use this activity as an occasion to go more in depth into the metric system. Here is a nice foldable I created for teaching metric conversions. (Assembly of the foldable is a little complicated, but it is pretty nifty if you get it all lined up correctly)
  • Research the history of the olympics – my students always loved mythology connections!

And so many more! Be creative. If you want any other ideas or lessons related to the olympics, metric measurement, or estimation skills just send me an email or comment below and I’d be happy to help. Also, ScienceSmiles is now on Twitter @SmilesScience!

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