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Shani Davis & Engineering Competition Suits – Integration Guide (Grades 4-12)

Science and Engineering of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games

This document is a companion piece to video titled Shani Davis & Engineering Competition Suits and is intended as a resource for educators.

Background and Planning Information

About the Video

Shani Davis & Engineering Competition Suits highlights speed skater Shani Davis as it discusses the factors that influence how Kevin Haley and his team at the Under Armour Innovation Lab in Baltimore, Maryland, design the competition suits that speed skaters wear. 

The materials reduce the ridges and bumps on a fabric surface, yet add them in other areas to change the way the surface interacts with the fluid (air). The suits are also designed to reduce drag, a type of friction that exists between the individual and the air. Though engineered to reduce friction, the suit still has to fit like a second skin. Dr. Sarah Morgan, an NSF-funded expert in polymer science at the University of Southern Mississippi, is also highlighted. She researches and develops materials for the purpose of reducing the amount of friction on objects —POSS (pronounced PAWS)—that might someday be used in fabrics worn by athletes.

0:00 0:14

Series opening

0:15 0:51

Introducing the sport of speed skating and Shani Davis

0:52 1:14

Describing competition suits and their importance to performance

1:15 1:33

Introducing Kevin Haley and how Under Armour designs the competition suits

1:34 1:48

Describing components of the competition suits that reduce aerodynamics

1:49 2:02

Showing other examples of competition suit designs

2:03 2:21

Introducing Dr. Sarah Morgan and NSF-funded polymer science research



Explaining the impact of friction in speed skating

2:35 3:05

Morgan’s research on POSS and how it decreases friction

3:06 3:35

Explaining drag in speed skating and other sports

3:36 4:56

Outlining Under Armour’s design process to minimize drag and friction

4:57 5:22

Outlining criteria for comfort and wearability for the athlete

5:23 5:34


5:35 5:51

Closing credits

Language Support

To aid those with limited English proficiency or others who need help focusing on the video, click the Transcript tab on the side of the video window, then copy and paste the text into a document for student reference.

Promote STEM with Video

Connect to Science

Science concepts described in Shani Davis & Engineering Competition Suits include physics concepts related to aerodynamics, like friction and drag. Friction is discussed as the oppositional force of two objects moving in contact with each other and as having a positive relationship with the amount of surface area that is in contact. In this case friction exists between skaters' limbs as they move against each other. Drag is described as the oppositional force applied by a fluid such as water or air as an object moves through it. In this case, drag is the force of the air resisting the movement of the skaters' bodies. Finally, the video includes the concepts of measurement in the way that engineers and scientists determine which fabrics and suit designs minimize both friction and drag by measuring skaters' speed and the way the wind moves over the skater. Students might compare and contrast how solutions for the suit might be viable for the skates as well.

(page 1)

Related Science Concepts

  • friction

  • drag

  • gravity

  • velocity

  • mass

Take Action with Students

  • Use the segment from 2:22 to 2:34 to introduce the concept of friction to the class. The video relates this concept to speed skating, but all Winter Olympic sports use or work against friction in some way. Use the “Sports” page of the Official website of the Olympic Movement at to research the sports. Have students in small groups discuss the force of friction at work in each sport of the Winter Olympics: Is friction a necessary force, a force to work against, or both; how does the force act in the system; how is it acted against. Each group can choose five sports to explore and share their findings with the whole class. Students can type “friction” in the search box for options to explore.

  • Drag is introduced in the video from 3:06 to 3:35 as an oppositional force created on an object by air and water. Several examples are given in both sport and nature. Use this part of the video to encourage students in small groups to discuss the factors that affect how much drag affects an object or organism. To test their ideas, students might use a piece of paper folded in different shapes to change surface area, different sizes to test mass, etc. Small groups can report their findings to the whole class.

Connect to Technology

The video highlights technology used to minimize the amount of friction and drag athletes have to fight against on the ice. This technology includes the fabric used to make the suits, the measurement systems used to measure drag and friction, and the sensors used to model the motion of the skaters.

Take Action with Students

  • Use Shani Davis & Engineering Competition Suits to introduce the technology incorporated into modern speed skating competition suits. Have students compare and contrast the suits with those of the 1948 Olympic Winter Games at v=IYNq8U7IuT0. The link shows the 10000-meter men’s speed skating competition at St. Moritz, Switzerland. How has technology played a role in the differences in suit design? Ideas might include the development of various fabrics with which the suits can be made or the development of indoor racing venues.

Connect to Engineering Design

The engineering design process uses human ingenuity to draw from different disciplines like science, math, and technology to solve a problem. In this case, the problem is the forces of friction and drag preventing speed skaters from reaching their highest speeds. Scientists and engineers used technology and their understanding of these forces and skaters’ movements to engineer competition suits that minimize friction and drag on the racer.

(page 2)

Take Action with Students

  • Introduce the engineering process related to speed skating by having students watch Shani Davis & Engineering Competition Suits. As a class, discuss the problems scientists and engineers were trying to address, the goals they set out to achieve, and how they achieved those goals and solved the problems through the engineering of the suit. Then, use the Official website of the Olympic Movement at to research other sports. Have students define the same parameters/characteristics for other sports apparel or equipment. For example, students might look at the design of a bobsled. What problems might engineers have been trying to address with the design of a bobsled? What goals or constraints did they have in its design? What features of the bobsled addressed those goals and problems? Refer students to Building Faster & Safer Bobsleds, another video in this series.

  • The segment from 2:03 to 3:05 discusses the idea of friction and methods for reducing friction by competition suit design, including fabrics used and POSS, a coating material meant to reduce the surface area of a hard surface that comes in contact with another hard surface, thereby reducing friction. Allow students to experiment in small groups with pieces of sandpaper and various coating materials (petroleum jelly, toothpaste, baby oil, vegetable oil, latex paint, baby powder, graphite, etc.). They should be given a problem related to the sandpaper (rubbing sandpaper together creates too much friction and is difficult to do), and constraints (amount of substance to be used, number of different substances that may be used at a time, etc.). Students should work with the materials to work toward the goals of the design, while working within the constraints. Friction, in this case, might not be measured, but simply tested relatively between design solutions.

Connect to Math

While Shani Davis & Engineering Competition Suits discusses in greater detail the technology related to the design of the competition suit, math is used to measure the suit's performance to know if the design was successful. Speed skaters’ speed is measured to determine the suit's effectiveness at reducing drag and friction. Wind speed around the suit is measured to determine the force drag places on the skater. Engineers use computer programs and hi-tech methods of measurement, however, basic math underlies the systems they use.

Take Action with Students

  • The Official website of the Olympic Movement provides excellent data on speed skating medalists for each competition event. The following table contains the race times achieved by the gold medalists in the Men’s 10,000-meter competition for each year the Winter Olympics has been held since 1948. This event is one of the oldest in the Olympic Winter Games, and therefore, it provides the most data (women’s results were not available until 1960). Elicit from students how they might use the data to answer questions about how the sport has evolved over the last 66 years.

  • Students might better understand the racing speeds of these athletes in units they can relate to other speeds they are familiar with to answer questions about how the speeds have changed over time, as technology and sportsmanship have improved. Have students work with the data below and the conversion factors provided to change each set of time and distance values to miles per hour (MPH). Then students can plot the average speed in MPH over time by creating a line graph. Have students discuss the trend they see related to the technological improvements of the sport. They might also offer other reasons, such as improvements in diet or strength and conditioning. Also discuss with students the utility of representing data this way. What can a line graph tell you that is harder to understand if data are in table format?

(page 3)

Winter Olympic Games Location and Year / Gold Medalist Final Speed in Seconds

1609.34 meters = 1 mile / 3600 seconds = 1 hour 


St. Moritz 1948 17:16.3
Oslo 1952 16:45.8
Cortina d'Ampezzo 1956 16:35.9
Squaw Valley 1960 15:45.6

Innsbruck 1964

Grenoble 1968 15:23.1
Sapporo 1972 15:01.35
Innsbruck 1976 14:50.59
Lake Placid 1980 14:28.23
Sarajevo 1984 14:39.90
Calgary 1988 13:48.20
Albertville 1992 14:12.12
Lillehammer 1994 13:30.55
Nagano 1998 13:15.33
Salt Lake City 2002 12:58.92
Turin 2006 13:01.57
Vancouver 2010 12:58.55
















Incorporate Video into Your Lesson Plan

Integrate Video in Instruction

As Part of the Day

  • Bellringer Play segments 0:15 to 0:32 and 0:52 to 1:07 without the sound and instruct students to focus on the movement of the skater on the ice. Then ask students to make two lists. First, list all of the things that help the skater move across the ice. Then, list all of the factors that work against the skater moving on the ice. This can be the start of a discussion of friction as both helpful and harmful, as well as a discussion of all of the forces acting on an object, including gravity and normal force. Have students draw representations of these ideas as best they can. This can help students identify forces that they cannot see.

  • Compare and Contrast After watching the video, have students experiment with drag by first waving their empty hands through the air. Then, have students predict how that motion might change if they held various sizes and shapes of cardboard before performing that same motion. Alternatively, students could run with and without an open umbrella behind them. Compare and contrast the sensation of and the ease with which the motion takes place. Use this activity as a catalyst for a discussion of drag as an opposing force and how it affects athletes in various sports.

  • Real World Connection Individuals or small groups could explore the effects of friction by ‘skating’ in their socks in an open hallway, gym, cafeteria, or smooth concrete area. Students could try this at home and bring in what they think are the best skating socks (nylon, cotton, thick, thin, etc). Students could develop a testing mechanism for themselves. They might skate side to side and count how many slides they can accomplish in a given time period. They might skate a set distance and time themselves. Then, have students share their test methods as well as their findings to discuss how they think the fabric an athlete’s competition suit is made of affects theirperformance. Students should include drawings that show on a macro scale what they think is happening. Use this activity as a lead in to the video and a lesson on friction. Consider extending it to taking heart rates before and after skating, and graphing the various activities.

(page 4)

As Part of a 5E Lesson Plan

If you use a 5E approach to lesson plans, consider incorporating video in these Es:

  • Explore Use the SCIENCE Inquiry section of Shani Davis & Engineering Competition Suits Inquiry Guide to support your lessons on force and friction.

  • Explain Use the segments of the video that discuss friction (2:22 to 2:34) and drag (3:06 to 3:35) to support your lessons on force and friction.

  • Elaborate The video describes friction as an oppositional force to be minimized, but in many sports, friction is also a force to be utilized. Use the video as a springboard to encourage students to think in this direction. Have them research other sports (Winter Olympics or otherwise) and explain how friction is necessary and the ways in which it is leveraged for better performance.


Speed Comparisons

Use the video as well as the data table provided in the Connect to Math Take Action with Students to facilitate a discussion of the changing performance of Winter Olympics speed skaters. How does the competition suit affect their performance? What other factors contribute to the significant increase in their speed over time? What training habits or environmental factors might contribute in addition to the competition suit?

Connect to ... History

Speed Skating’s Origins

Use the Official website of the Olympic Movement to research some of the history of speed skating. This information can be found at Use this information to spark a discussion about where speed skating originated and perhaps why it started where it did. What are some other milestones in the sport’s history? For example, when were women allowed to compete? How do technology and engineering in a sport fit into its history?

Use Video as a Writing Prompt

  • Explain to students that they will use information from the video to explain how technology changes the speeds at which skaters can skate. Show the segment from 3:36 to 4:56 so that students can get several ideas for how the competition suits are engineered to reduce friction and drag. Students should write at least one paragraph describing this design and how it increases speed.

  • The video describes the principles of drag and friction, two separate forces acting on a skater. Have students write a description of each force. Then, have students make a claim about which force they believe to have a more significant impact on the speed of the skater. To support their claim, they should look to evidence from the video, and if possible, evidence from outside sources they might gather themselves.

(page 5)

Connect Video to Common Core ELA

Encourage inquiry via media research. Student work will vary in complexity and depth depending on grade level, prior knowledge, and creativity. Use prompts liberally to encourage thought and discussion.

Common Core State Standards Connections: ELA/Literacy –

  • RST.6-8.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts, attending to the precise details of explanations or descriptions

  • WHST.6-8.1: Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.

  • WHST.6-8.7: Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.

  • WHST.6-8.8: Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.

Facilitate Inquiry through Media Research

Show Shani Davis & Engineering Competition Suits and encourage students to jot down notes while they watch. Elicit questions and problems from group members and help them determine which are better explored using print media or online resources. Then, students should brainstorm to form a list of key words and phrases they could use in Internet search engines that might result in resources that will help them answer a question or solve a problem. Review how to safely browse the Web, how to evaluate information on the Internet for accuracy, and how to correctly cite the information found. Suggest students make note of any interesting tangents they find in their research effort for future inquiry. Encourage students with prompts such as the following:

  • Words and phrases associated with our question/problem are....

  • The reliability of our sources was established by....

  • The science and math concepts that underpin a possible solution are....

  • Our research might feed into an engineering design solution such as....

  • To conduct the investigation safely, we will....

Related Internet Resources

Make a Claim Backed by Evidence

As students carry out their media research, ensure they record their sources and findings. Students should analyze their findings in order to state one or more claims. Encourage students with this prompt: As evidenced by... I claim... because....

Present and Compare Findings

Encourage students to prepare presentations that outline their inquiry investigations so they can compare findings with others. Students might do a Gallery Walk through the presentations and write peer reviews as would be done on published science and engineering findings. Remind students to credit their original sources in their comparisons. Elicit comparisons from students with prompts such as:

  • My findings are similar to (or different from) those of the experts in the video in that....

  • My findings are similar to (or different from) those of my classmates in that....

  • My findings are similar to (or different from) those that I found on the Internet in that....

(page 6)

Reflect on Learning

Students should reflect on their understanding, thinking about how their ideas have changed or what they know now that they didn’t before. Encourage reflection, using prompts such as the following:

  • I claim that my ideas have changed from the beginning of this lesson because of....

  • My ideas changed in the following ways....

  • When thinking about the claims made by the experts, I am confused about....

  • One part of the investigation I am most proud of is....

Inquiry Assessment

Assessment Rubric for Inquiry Investigations


1 point

2 points

3 points

Initial question or problem

Question or problem had had a yes/no answer or too simple of a solution, was off topic, or otherwise was not researchable or testable.

Question or problem was researchable or testable but too broad or not answerable by the chosen investigation.

Question or problem was clearly stated, was researchable or testable, and showed direct relationship to investigation.

References cited

Group incorrectly cited all of the references used in the study.

Group correctly cited some of the references used in the study.

Group correctly cited all of the references used in the study.


No claim was made or the claim had no evidence to support it.

Claim was marginally supported by the group’s research evidence.

Claim was well supported by the group’s research evidence.


Groups neither effectively nor cooperatively presented findings to support their stance.

Groups effectively or cooperatively presented findings to support their stance.

Groups effectively and cooperatively presented findings to support their stance.

Findings comparison

Only a few members of the group constructively argued their stance.

Most members of the group constructively argued their stance.

All members of the group constructively argued their stance.


None of the reflections were related to the initial questions.

Some reflections were related to the initial questions.

All reflections were related to the initial questions.

(page 7)


Sports in this article

Speed Skating