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Basketball Science Project Ideas

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

Would you be interested in teaching your 6th through 12th grade students about basketball science? They will cooperate together, as they learn how and why a basketball moves when force is applied to it by an athlete.

Why Basketball Science?

Basketball can be a fun sport to play or to watch. While basketball is indeed a sport, in modern times scientists have attempted to quantify specifically what makes a basketball move in different ways. Your middle and high school students will cooperate in pairs and groups, as they learn to analyze the techniques that make up the sport of basketball. The following three projects will supplement their class work, and benefit them by allowing them to understand the forces of physics at play. They will find out how high a basketball bounces, compare methods of shooting from the free throw line, and learn about the many bounces and spins of a basketball.

How High Does a Basketball Bounce?

Materials: air pump with nozzle (including an easy-to-read inflation gauge), basketball, cardboard or wooden board (six-feet tall by two-feet wide, prepared in advance of class) marked with horizontal lines starting at the bottom in three-inch increments, clipboard, online access, paper, writing implements

  • First divide your students into small groups of 3-5, and allow them to discuss in advance for a few minutes what they think will happen in this experiment.
  • Take your students to the gymnasium, or a suitable outdoor location.
  • Instruct two students to hold up the cardboard or wooden board.
  • Start with the basketball inflated to zero psi (pounds per square inch) on the first drop.
  • Raise the basketball as high as possible above your head, and then drop it in front of the measuring device.
  • Allow each student to record the height the ball bounces up from the ground. On a sidewalk, this will probably be a little more than one foot. Later you can average all the students' totals to get a more realistic tally.
  • Next inflate the basketball to one psi, and repeat the process.
  • Continue the process to 10 psi, although eight psi is regulation for a basketball. At eight psi the basketball will probably bounce on a sidewalk to a height of about five feet.

Note to Teacher - do not overinflate the basketball.

  • Repeat this experiment on asphalt, concrete, dirt, grass, plastic, rubber, wood, and any other surface you can find on school grounds.
  • When you are through, return to the classroom to average your data and discuss the results.
  • What final conclusion can your students reach about the psi of a basketball, and the various surfaces as well?
  • Have each student write a one-page journal entry about this project.

Optional - find a spot where the teacher can drop the basketball from a second-story location to see how much higher it bounces.

Discussion Questions: In what ways is bouncing a basketball different inside a gymnasium versus on an outside court? How would the game be different if the basketball was made to be much bouncier instead?

Free Throws

Materials: basketball, clipboard, indoor or outdoor basketball court, online capability, paper, writing instruments

  • First divide your students into small groups of 4-6, and then take them to an indoor or outdoor basketball court.
  • Instruct the students to keep a tally of all shots made or missed during this project.
  • Have each student shoot five overhand free throws, making sure they keep their feet on the ground while shooting.
  • Next have them shoot five overhand jump shots from the free throw line, this time making sure their feet are in the air while shooting.
  • Now have them shoot five underhand free throws with their feet remaining on the ground.
  • Next have them shoot five free throws with their right hands only with feet on the ground.
  • Now have them shoot five free throws with their left hands only with feet on the ground.
  • Each student (and the teacher) should now have shot a total of 25 free throws.
  • Return to your classroom to determine which methods were the best and the worst for making free throws.
  • Have your students write five-to-ten-minute skits about a basketball player at their school who has to make a final free throw to win the big game.

Optional - try trick shots such as shooting backward, or bouncing the ball off the ground.

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