Faster Higher Smarter

What You Need


  • Classroom set of Faster, Higher, Smarter
  • Shoe boxes that are not too big (women’s size 7 or so works well)
  • The players (see Faster, Higher, Smarter teacher sheet)
  • Craft sticks
  • Ping-pong balls, foam golf balls, or similar
  • 1" x 6" board (1" thick by 6" wide)
  • Screws
  • Rubber bands
  • String
  • Foam core
  • Tape
  • Tops of paper boxes
  • C-clamps can be useful as well
Faster Higher Smarter


To explore the science of sports and to make the connection of scientific principles to real world activities like sports.


This lesson is based on the book Faster, Higher, Smarter: Bright Ideas That Transformed Sports, by Simon Shapiro. The book is one of the finalists of the 2017 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science BooksSB&F, Science Books & Films, is a project of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Sports and athletic competition are often areas of interest to students. This lesson draws upon that intrinsic interest in sports to teach the physics concepts of energy types and energy conversion. Students will learn the concepts of types of energy, energy conversion, friction and air resistance, machines, and center of gravity. They will also explore the idea that just because something has been done a certain way, doesn't mean that there is not a better way to do it. Innovation is often needed to improve performance in sports, business, and many other aspects of life.

Students will participate in a tabletop sports game against other students. They will then study the book, Faster, Higher, Smarter, to learn the science behind a variety of sports innovations. Then, they will go back to the tabletop sport and create some innovations to that game.

The book Faster, Higher, Smarter shows that it takes a lot of talent, skill, and hard work to become a world-class athlete. But it takes even more to make a sport better: it takes smarts! And whether innovators are aware of it or not, it takes an understanding of physics, mechanics, and aerodynamics to come up with better techniques and equipment.

From swimming, soccer, and basketball to skateboarding and wheelchair sports, Faster, Higher, Smarter looks at the hard science behind many inventions and improvements in sports. You and your students will find out how the introduction of the aluminum bat changed baseball, how a slapshot works, and what’s involved in bending a ball like Beckham. It also covers the history of such milestones as the introduction of diversity, disabled athletes, and women in sport.

Ideas in this lesson are also related to concepts found in these Common Core State Standards  

    Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.
    Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; provide an accurate summary of the text distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
    Analyze the author's purpose in providing an explanation, describing a procedure, or discussing an experiment in a text.
    Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.7.7
    Conduct short research projects to answer a question, drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions for further research and investigation

Planning Ahead

To begin, you will need to build multiple copies of the tabletop game. You will need shoe boxes that are not too big (women’s size 7 or so works well), the players (see the Faster, Higher, Smarter teacher sheet), craft sticks, ping-pong balls or something similar, blocks of wood, screws, rubber bands, foam core, tape, and the tops of paper boxes. C-clamps can be useful as well. 

Mount both players on foam core. On one player, tape or glue a craft stick behind the player so that it can stick through the top of the shoe box. This player will be the goalie. On the other player, glue a triangular piece of foam core as a stand to support the player. This will be an offensive player.

Construct each playing field to look like the picture on the Faster, Higher, Smarter teacher sheet. Open one end of the paper box lid as shown on the teacher sheet. This will be the playing surface. Tape the shoe box to the opposite end. This will be the goal. Cut a slit/hole in the top of the show box.

To build the shooting mechanism, take a 1" x 6" board (the board should be 1" thick by 6" wide) and cut it to 5" long. Put two 1" screws in the corners of the board ¾ of an inch from the front and sides of the board. Stretch a rubber band across the screws. Tie a string around the center of the rubber band as a way to pull the rubber band back for shooting the ball.

Clamp the shooting mechanism to the open front of the playing field box. The game is now ready to play.


Most people are naturally, at least somewhat, competitive. Many students participate in sports, debates, academic competitions, and other competitive activities. Begin by asking students about what competitive activities they participate in. Get them to discuss what it was like when they started out compared to where they are now. What steps did they take to improve along the way? These could be things like practice, better equipment, better coaching, etc.

After that discussion, introduce them to the tabletop soccer game. Hand out the Faster, Higher, Smarter and Tabletop Soccer student sheets and go over the rules and game play. Pair up the students and have each pair of students face off for a game against another pair of students. Encourage them to try a variety of strategies and make notes of what works and what doesn’t in the table provided on the Faster, Higher, Smarter student sheet. Each player on each team should have a turn at offense and defense. If time permits, have them play against another group.

After students have played the game, follow up with questions like these:

  • What strategy worked for you when you tried to make a goal?
  • What strategy didn't work?
  • What happened to the ball when you hit it straight on? What happened to it when you hit it off center?
  • Do you know what kind of energy is involved in this game?
  • How would you describe the motion of the ball once you hit it?
(Answers may vary. Encourage students to explain their answers.)


Now that students have had an opportunity to play the game, they will begin to study some scientific principles that should help them improve. Give each pair of students a copy of the book Faster, Higher, Smarter and assign each group one of the chapters of the book to study and become an “expert” on the scientific principles that were used to innovate in that sport.

The book does a nice job of summarizing the science behind the innovations, but we want the students to dig in a bit deeper. You can have students use these resources to conduct some research on the sport. Students can use their Faster, Higher Smarter student esheet to help them go to these resources:

Each group should read and research the innovations mentioned in Faster, Higer, Smarter and prepare a brief lesson to be shared with the rest of the class. Students should address the following for the sport they've been assigned:

  • What was it about the sport that needed improving?
  • What changes were made to improve performance in this sport?
  • What science principles were involved in the innovation?
  • How did others react to this innovation? Was it widely accepted at first? Eventually?

Students can choose to do a PowerPoint slide show, a poster, or a short video to do the lesson. For the PowerPoint, they should be sure to have at least six slides: one for introduction, one for each of the questions they should answer, and one for conclusion. For the poster, they should include a title, their names, at least four images with captions—for explaining their answers to the questions and perhaps an introduction and conclusion. If they choose to do a short video, they should still be sure to address all of the questions.

As classmates are presenting information, students should listen for common scientific principles that are found in many sports and be thinking of how those principles might be used to innovate in the tabletop soccer game.


Use the questions on the Faster, HIgher, Smarter student sheet to assess student understanding of the scientific principles and how they apply.

Students need to answer these questions. You should follow up with a class discussion of the questions to gauge their understanding.

  • There are several scientific concepts that recur through the book. Students should describe each one on their student sheet.
    • Kinetic Energy 
    • Elastic Potential Energy 
    • Energy Conversion 
    • Newton’s Laws of Motion 
    • Friction and Air Resistance 
    • Simple Machines – Specifically levers 
  • Which concepts might be used to improve performance in the tabletop soccer game? How?
    • (Answers may vary. Encourage students to explain their answers.)
  • Brainstorm some ideas to improve the three key aspects of the game.
    • The goalie:
    • The offensive player:
    • The shooter:

(Answers may vary. Encourage students to explain their answers.)

Now organize a tournament for students to revisit the tabletop soccer game they played at the beginning of the lesson. Students should apply the changes they've made to the game when they play in this tournament. Tell students that once they're eliminated, they should still watch the other matches to evaluate the effectiveness of other groups' innovations. You can use the Tournament Setup teacher sheet to help you set up the tournament. 

After they have applied their innovations, they should analyze the effectiveness of those innovations. Ask students these questions.

  • How effective were your changes to the game? Did your idea produce the results that you thought it would? 
  • What scientific principles were you trying to take advantage of to improve your game play? 
  • What changes seemed to be the most effective? 
  • What scientific principles were used in the most effective strategies? 
  • What might you change before playing again?

(Answers may vary. Encourage your students to explain their answers.)


To extend on the ideas in this lesson, you can lead your students through these Science NetLinks lessons:

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Project 2061 Benchmarks National Science Standards