Materials World Modules

An Inquiry & Design-Based Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Program

Sports Materials Module

Students explore the materials design and function of a wide variety of balls used in athletics, as well as test and analyze their interactions with many surfaces they come in contact during play. Then students design a suitable material for use in a newly invented game.

By incorporating everyday materials into science lessons, the Materials World Modules (MWM) program at Northwestern University has found the solution to getting students excited about learning science while helping teachers meet national and state education standards.

The modules are easy to organize and inexpensive to run. They can be incorporated into any science class because of the breadth of subjects covered in the Activity and Design Project sections. Each module is a supplemental science unit that takes 1-3 weeks of class time (approximately
10 hours) to complete.

MWM will give students an opportunity to understand the world around them in a way they have never experienced before. The modules promote an awareness of the roles science and technology play in society and guide students to take increased control of their work.

Module At-a-Glance

Module At-a-Glance

Activity 1: Exploring Ball Design and Materials
By examining the construction of different balls used in sports, students recognize that the design of balls varies according to how the balls are used in their sport. They hypothesize why specific materials were chosen for each ball.

Activity 2: Measuring the Rebound of Sports Balls
Students use a drop test to compare a variety of sports balls for their ability to rebound. They draw conclusions relating rebound to the materials in each ball and to drop height.

Activity 3: Investigating Energy Absorption of Materials
As they measure how high a ball bounces from a number of surfaces, students investigate how materials absorb or return energy. They recognize that energy is absorbed through the deformation of materials.

Activity 4: Comparing Rolling Friction on Different Surfaces
Students test how different surfaces impede a ball's ability to roll. They also analyze class data to compare how far different balls rolled across the same surface.

Activity 5: Researching Sports Materials
Students research and write a formal report about the sports equipment of their choice-how the equipment was developed, what materials are commonly used and why, and how the equipment might be improved in the future. They learn about the connections between science, technology, and society.

Design Project 1: Designing a Mini-Golf Game
Drawing on what they learned about rebound, energy absorption, and rolling friction, students design a ball to be used in a new kind of mini-golf game. They will design, test, evaluate, and redesign a set of prototypes that must meet a number of specific criteria, including landing in the target area 75% of the time.

Design Project 2: Designing New Sports Equipment
Students consider their research project as well as the properties they tested throughout the Activities as they propose a new type of sports equipment or an improvement on an existing product. They will design, test, evaluate, and redesign a set of prototypes to meet a list of criteria that they themselves establish for their product.

Connecting to Your Curriculum

Connecting to Your Curriculum

Materials World Modules are simple to organize and inexpensive to run. They are designed to be easily incorporated into any middle school science or high school science lab or lecture course. The chart below lists the subjects covered in the Activities and Design Projects sections of this module.

Physics & Physical Science

  • Forces
  • Friction
  • Energy
  • Conservation of Energy
  • Energy Absorption
  • Stored and Kinetic
  • Elastic and Plastic Deformation
  • Inertia

Geology & Earth Science

  • Air Pressure and Altitude
  • Environmental Issues


  • Properties of Matter
  • Molecular Bonds
  • Polymers


  • Measuring
  • Graphing (Making, Reading and Analysis)
  • Computing
  • Averages
  • Ratios

Language Arts

  • Writing a report
  • Public speaking

Biology and Life Science

  • Biological Materials
  • Structure and Function
  • Biomechanics
  • Human Body
  • Joints
  • Metabolism
  • Skin

Technical Education

  • Designing
  • Materials
  • Controlling Energy Absorption
  • Controlling Friction

Math Teaser

The Bouncing Ball

As the Ball Bounces…

You are an observer to the following experiment (see diagram to the right). A small steel ball is dropped onto a rubber membrane covering a can. The ball bounces for one half-second, followed by a second bounce for one-quarter of a second, and a third bounce for one eighth of a second. A series of bounces will follow, each one half the duration in time of the previous bounce.


You are now asked to make a prediction.

  1. Will the ball continue to bounce indefinitely?
  2. Or is it possible that everything that bounces…must converge?

bouncing ball


Standards Alignment

AAAS Benchmark Standards


NSES Standards


Grades 9-12 Designs Grades 9-12 Designs
1. The Nature of Science


A. Science as Inquiry


Scientific inquiry

Ability to do scientific inquiry

The Scientific enterprise

Understanding scientific inquiry

2. The Nature of Mathematics


B. Physical Science


Patterns and relationships

Structure and properties of matter

Mathematics, science, and technology

Motions and forces

3. The Nature of Technology


Conservation of energy

Technology and science

E. Science and Technology


Design and systems

Ability of technological design

Issues in technology

Understanding science and technology

4. The Physical Setting




Structure of matter

G. History and Nature of Science


Energy transformations

Historical perspectives




Forces of nature



8. The Designed World




Materials and manufacturing



11. Common Themes







Constancy and change



12. Habits of Mind




Computation and estimation



Communication skills



Video Clips

Video Clips

William Weber talks about the Sports Materials Module

View Youtube video



Amer Sports, which includes Wilson , Suunto, Atomic, etc.
Discusses the technology behind many types of sports equipment, and the various design and material choices facing consumers.

Science in Sports
Tackles the subject of science behind sports, including high-tech materials, energy transfer, and other issues in sports.

Slam Dunk Science
Introduces many aspects of sports science and engineering as they relate to athletic shoe design, and explains how to set up a low-cost sports research lab in the classroom.

US Olympic Team
Includes an overview of the history, rules, and equipment used in Olympic and Paralympic sports.

Sports Materials Module Intro

@ Materials World Modules