Nice Kicks

By D. Assael, February 27, 2017

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Summer Design Institute

Subject Area

  • Mathematics

Lesson Time

Three 60 minute classes


  This lesson is to be used to help students learn how to calculate slope of a line and use slope to describe the traction of sneakers.  Students will be using the idea of slope and traction to develop prototypes of sneakers with better traction.  The prototypes will come in the form of detailed drawings after receiving feedback from classmates.  Students will be including in their design the materials to be used in the creation of their sneaker sole.   Background Information: Here the teacher should explain how sneakers have developed over the years and how different materials have enhanced the traction of sneakers.  Looking at simple Converse Chuck Taylors as the original basketball sneaker to today’s Jordan’s; a dramatic transformation can be seen.  If a student has a pair of Jordan’s or Converse, have them display them for the class – if not, use attached images.  Just looking at sneaker’s a model year apart, there are improvements (often with weight and support).  An explanation of how different styles of sneakers have different traction should also be discussed. Discuss the different surfaces for different sports and the different types of movements made in different sports. (Basketball: hardwood – lateral and vertical movement.  Tennis: grass, clay, hard ground - lateral movement.  Runner – many surfaces). The teacher should show the included video montage of sneaker commercials.   Explain to the students that they are going to be collecting data on the traction of sneakers to determine what helps sneakers have traction and what we might change in a sneaker’s design to make them have more grip to the ground. The “user” is the consumer.  The “user” can be any consumer looking at shoes or specific athletes (non-professional and professional) looking at different uses for different shoes.  When students “prototype” different shoes, they will be creating ideas around the material necessary for the sole of a shoe and how it may be designed (based on observations of different shoes within the class) to increase traction.

National Standards

8.EE: Understand the connections between proportional relationships, lines, and linear equations. 8.EE.5: Graph proportional relationships, interpreting the unit rate as the slope of the graph. Compare two different proportional relationships represented in different ways. For example, compare a distance-time graph to a distance-time equation to determine which of two moving objects has greater speed.   SL.8.1
: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others ideas and expressing their own clearly. b. Follow rules for collegial discussions and decision-making, track progress toward specific goals and deadlines, and define individual roles as needed.   VA. Standard 1. Level III. Benchmark 2: Knows how the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes can be used to enhance communication of experiences and ideas  


Your Task: Students will calculate the traction of sneakers using slope and design a unique sole to enhance traction. SWBAT use slope to describe the traction of different sneaker styles.


  • Sneaker Traction Data Table developed from Meredith Davis of North Carolina State
  • Youtube video’s of sneaker commercials (montage created)
  • Pictures of Converse high tops and Jordan’s


  • Sneaker traction data table: Provided worksheet
  • 2 x 4 (or other board of wood) for each group
  • Meter sticks (or tape measurers)
  • Student sneakers
  • Markers


Slope: The slant or steepness of a line   Traction: The force that causes a moving thing to stick against the surface it is moving along   User: The intended person or thing that will use something   Prototype: An original or first model of something from which other forms are copied or developed   Hypothesis: A supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation   Brainstorm: A spontaneous group discussion to produce ideas and ways of solving problems.


Overview:  The goal of this lesson is for students to design soles of sneakers to improve traction for the user.  Students will use slope to determine the traction of different sneakers.  
  • PRESENT THE CHALLENGE (Day 1 – 10min)
“How might we design sneakers with a lot of traction?”
  • Brainstorm ideas about what students believe traction is and its effects on their sneakers.
  • Collect up to 12 different sneakers from volunteers in the classroom (minimum of 6)
  • Using different styles of sneakers within the classroom, have students make hypotheses around what sneakers would have the best traction.
  • Order the sneakers from least traction to most. Individually, have students include, based on their observations, what sneakers will have the best traction and what makes them come to such conclusions on their “Sneaker Traction Data Table” worksheet.
  • Using the same sneakers, collect data on their actual traction levels. – TWO GROUPS (Split sneakers among the two groups)
    • FRAME/REFRAME THE PROBLEM (Day 1 – 20min)
    • What had the biggest effect on the traction of a sneaker?
    • Have students document a comparison of their original thoughts about the traction of a sneaker to their thoughts after collecting data.
  • Place a sneaker on a board of wood behind given “Starting Line”
    • Teacher must draw the “Start Line” and “Finish Line” prior to lesson. (30 cm apart)
  • Slowly raise the board until the sneaker begins to slide
    • Hold the board at this height until it reaches the given “Finish Line”
    • Hold the board at this height for measurements
  • Measure the height of the board from the ground to the “Starting line”
    • Measure in centimeters
  • Measure the height of the board from the ground to the “Finish Line”
    • Measure in centimeters
  • Measure the distance from the “Starting Line” to the “Finish Line”
    • Measure in centimeters
    • Be sure to measure the distance between the start and finish line from the ground and not on the board itself.
  • Using the measured data, find the slope of the board
    • This calculation will provide the traction of the sneaker
  • Repeat this steps for all sneakers used
  • Record and place sneakers in order of traction levels
    • Largest absolute value of slope = best traction
  • Have each group share out data collected.
  • What will be the focus of your design to create a sneaker with better traction?
  • In groups of 3-4, have students brainstorm ideas on how they could design the sole of a sneaker (lead students to focus on the sole of the sneaker) that will have the greatest effect on the traction of a sneaker.  How would you create the sole of a sneaker that would have a higher slope – traction value?  Have students share their ideas with the class – list all possible ideas for students to copy.
    • EDIT/DEVELOP IDEAS (Day 2 – 20min)
    • From the list created by the class, groups will select one idea to expand on.
    • Groups will design a prototype of a detailed image of the sole of a sneaker
    • Side view and bottom view
    • Label different parts of the sole with materials to be used
    • Color code different materials used
    • Present hypothesized traction value (absolute value of slope)
  • Have groups present their designs to the class using a gallery walk
    • Students will record observations, questions, and suggestions to share with groups after gallery walk.
    • Student observations will be shared with groups.
    • Students return to groups to discuss any changes to their designs they might make based on constructive criticism from classmates.
      • IMPLEMENT THE SOLUTION (Day 3 – 30min)
      • Students return to groups to edit their design based on constructive criticism from classmates to increase the traction value of their prototype.
        • Students present their final design to the class.
        • Students explain what feedback they used to adjust their design and why.
        • Students reflect on the challenges they faced and what actions were taken to over come those challenges
  • Discussion Questions:
    • Post video montage questions:
      • What seems to be similar about the sneakers?
      • What are some things that are different?
      • Why are there differences in the designs?
    • What are some other materials (other than rubber) that we might be able to create sneaker soles out of?
    • Other than the material of the sneaker, what might influence a sneaker’s traction?
    • Does make sense for different types of sneakers to have different amounts of traction?
    • Does style and traction correlate?
    • Are there traction values (absolute value of slope) that would be unattainable?
    • Are there traction values (absolute value of slope) that would be too great or too small for certain activities?


  • Students record data from measuring group member’s sneaker traction using wood plank
  • Students calculate traction using slope accurately, showing procedure and work.
  • Groups create a detailed image of their design for the sole of a sneaker with a lot of traction.

Enrichment Extension Activities

  • Students use other parts of the sneaker (other than the sole) to increase the traction of sneakers.
  • Students examine the traction of different types of sneakers (dress sneakers, high heels, ballet slippers, rock climbing sneakers, etc.) and come up with thoughts as to what purpose different levels of traction might serve.
  • Additional design challenge that is more specific when it comes to traction:
  • How might we design sneakers with better traction for basketball/tennis/wrestling/hiking ect?

Teacher Reflection

  • It might be helpful to bring some different types of shoes for the classes that seem reluctant to share their shoes or do not have a variety of shoes.
  • Have students write down their ideas in a their notebooks or some type of graphic organizer.  This will allow for students to be able to reflect on their earlier thoughts as well as provide evidence of their brainstorming.
  • Continually model how to group brainstorm and share ideas.

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