Racing Dreams

PBS Premiere: Feb. 23, 2012Check the broadcast schedule »

Lesson Plan: Race to the Top: Collect, Analyze and Graph Data with POV Kart Racer

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In this lesson, students will collect and analyze data in an effort to improve their performance in an interactive simulation featuring competitive kart racing.

The clips provided with this lesson are from the film Racing Dreams, a documentary that follows three kart racers -- ages 11 to 13 -- as they compete in a five-race series for the national championship. For more information on karting and racing, please see the Resources section of this lesson.

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By the end of this lesson, students will:

  • Experiment with different variables in a game simulation.
  • Record their findings in a chart.
  • Display and analyze their data.
  • Decide which variable will most increase their likelihood of winning.







One 50-minute class period, plus time outside of class to complete handout


"Overview of Kart Racing" (length 1:32)

The clip begins at 7:38 with the on-screen text "Lowes Motor Speedway, NC." It ends at 9:10 with lots of karts speeding across the finish line.

"Driving Strategy in a Nutshell" (length :41)

The clip begins at 11:10 when Annabeth says, "A lot of people think..." It ends at 11:51 when she says, "You got to trust your gut and instinct."

"Meet Annabeth" (length 1:14)

The clip begins at 2:18 with the on-screen text "WKA Convention." It ends at 3:32 when Annabeth says, "You can't hide speed."

"The Dangers of Racing" (length :37)

The clip begins at 40:46 with Josh's mother cooking in the kitchen. It ends at 41:23 when she says, "I don't think racing is any more than any other sport."

"I Don't Need to Go to College" (length 2:05)

The clip begins at 44:47 with a shot of a stock car on a trailer. It ends at 46:52 when Annabeth's mother says, "...because I didn't have a chance to."

"The Economics of Racing" (length 3:23)

The clip begins at 50:55 with a shot of the Green Acres Golf Course. It ends at 54:18 with Annabeth's mother saying, "...bring her into the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program."

"End of the Season/Road" (length 2:52)

The clip begins at 1:30:32 with a shot of tables at an awards ceremony. It ends at 1:33:24 when Brandon says, "There are just some things you can't do in life."

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1. Display the first image of the Racing Dreams Photo Slideshow, which shows three karts moving at high speed during a race. Ask students if they have ever driven karts in their neighborhoods, at amusement parks or at family fun centers. If some have, invite those students to describe their experiences. If not, ask students to explain what they think it would be like, or consider showing the class the clip "Driving Strategy in a Nutshell."

2. Tell students that racing karts in organized competitions has become a multi-billion dollar industry and is viewed as a stepping stone to the professional ranks of NASCAR and Formula One racing.

3. Show the class the clip "Overview of Kart Racing" (length 1:32) so students can see competitive kart racing in action.

4. Explain that students are going to become kart racers in the interactive game POV Kart Racer, which simulates building a kart and participating in races. They will each be choosing a variable -- brand of kart component (engine or tires) or driving style -- and exploring how that chosen variable impacts driver performance as they strive to answer the question "Which Style and/or Brand Is Most Likely to Help You Win?" Ask students how they might go about trying to answer that question and engage the class in a discussion about what makes it a statistical question.

5. After the class determines that it will be important to collect data on their performance as drivers while changing one variable (brand of kart component or racing style), remind students that there are different ways to describe data. Ask students to recall some measures they have discussed in the past (mean, median, mode, range and so on). Next, inform them that they will be including one additional measure that is particular to this set of data -- winning percentage. Since the goal is to win races, students will calculate what percentage of races they win (i.e., come in first place) with each chosen brand or racing style. Either tell students or discuss as a class how to calculate the winning percentage (number of first place wins divided by the total number of races), and explain that although it's called the winning percentage, the number can be expressed in the form of a decimal or a percentage.

6. Give each student a copy of the graphic organizer POV Kart Racer Analysis. Have students play the game and complete the handout. Provide guidance as needed based on students' prior knowledge.

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  • Group together students who experimented with different variables (i.e., one who tested driving style, one who tested tire brand and one who tested engine brand). Ask each group to play one additional season of the POV Kart Racer game, using each group member's recommended driving style and brands of choice, and then calculate the driver's winning percentage. Have each group report its findings to the class, and discuss why some groups might have obtained different results than others (i.e., they chose different drivers and racetracks, every sample of a population will not be the same and so on).
  • Have students track increases and decreases in their POV Kart Racer funds on a series of number lines with plot points that indicate an initial sum of money, as well as changes to that amount that result from weekly expenses and income. Ask questions to prompt discussion with students about how to interpret their number lines, e.g., How could you use your number lines to figure out the amount of money that was gained or lost over the course of the whole season? How about between the third and fourth race? Ask whether any students plotted negative numbers on their number lines. Then engage students in a discussion about what a negative number represents in this situation, as well as advantages and disadvantages of using number lines to represent the data.
  • Have students track increases and decreases in their POV Kart Racer funds and then display their data using line graphs. For an added challenge, have students calculate and graph percentage changes in funds. Hold a group discussion about which quadrants students will be using when graphing changes in funds and ask them to explain why. After students have finished graphing, engage them in a discussion about the benefits and drawbacks of using line graphs (as opposed to other representational forms) to present their data. As a further extension, have students record all expenses during the course of a season and use a pie graph to illustrate the distribution of expenses. Then discuss the advantages and disadvantages of viewing the data in a pie chart versus the line graph.
  • After students have recorded their results for each of the four different brands or driving styles, have a discussion about what the winning percentage tells us and how that number might be useful in predicting future performance. Ask students a series of questions about how likely they are to win a set number of races in the future. For example, Pick the tire with the highest winning percentage for you. How likely are you to win the next five races using that tire? How likely are you to win half of the races next season? How much more likely are you to win all of your races next season using your best tire rather than using your worst tire?
  • Draw students' attention to the "Upcoming Bills" box in the POV Kart Racer game. Ask students to discuss what costs comprise that amount. Then draw students' attention to the "Sponsor Checks" box, and ask what that number represents. Finally, ask students to assign variables to different costs/gains and to write an equation to figure out how much money a driver gains/loses over n weeks. (It might be helpful first to have them brainstorm as a group, or in small groups, all the costs/gains to be included in the equation: initial registration, initial part costs, weekly part costs, income from sponsors and winnings.) Have students compare equations and discuss what their variables represent, as well as why some equations might be different from others.
  • Show the class the clip "The Economics of Racing" (length 3:23), which features the perspectives of three racers: Annabeth, Josh and Brandon. Discuss what role sponsorship plays in the issue of who gets to continue racing and who doesn't. Then create small student groups and have each group develop and present to the class a sponsorship proposal on behalf of Annabeth, Josh or Brandon. After the presentations, have students evaluate the proposals and vote for one racer to sponsor.
  • Study females who seek or have sought success in traditionally male-dominated activities. Have the class watch the clip "Meet Annabeth" (length 1:14), in which they are introduced to a racer who dreams of being the first woman to win the Daytona 500. Discuss the special challenges she faces as she tries to succeed as a competitive driver. Have students profile a female related to your curriculum who had to navigate a male-dominated field in order to achieve success. Use media to share these profiles and celebrate female pioneers.
  • Connect science with competitive driving strategy. Show the class the clip "Driving Strategy in a Nutshell" (length :41). Discuss: What force would cause a kart to spin out if it tried to hug the inside of the track at top speed? Why is going wide through turns more effective? How does the driving strategy described in the video demonstrate Newton's laws of motion? How do factors such as inertia, friction and mass affect speed? Related resources to support further investigations include the lesson plans and student activities in the Science, Life Skills and Innovations in American Automobile Racing Educator DigiKit and an in-depth explanation of The Physics of Racing .
  • Evaluate the level of risk acceptable in a sport. Show the class the clip "Overview of Kart Racing" (length 1:32) and discuss the dangers involved with this type of racing. Ask students if they would be willing to risk harm and injury to become national kart racing champions. Why or why not? Then play the clip "The Dangers of Racing" (length :37), which features the mother of Josh, a national kart racing champion. Do students agree or disagree with her perspective? Is kart racing riskier than other sports? Why or why not? Discuss the dangers of sports that students in the class play and why they are willing to take such risks. A helpful resource for such a discussion is the FRONTLINE report Football High , which provides statistics, expert interviews and video about the risks of playing football. Have students conduct additional research and then synthesize their findings in persuasive essays about acceptable risks in sports.
  • Investigate the role that education plays in a person's development and opportunities for success. Show the class the clip "I Don't Need to Go to College" (length 2:05), which shows racer Annabeth and her parents discussing college and opportunities. Have the class research and discuss the benefits of education. Students should then design poster-sized ads with messages promoting the value of education. Hang these posters in the classroom and around the school.
  • Explore point of view in writing. Have students watch all of the film Racing Dreams and then write a specified number of journal entries or postcards during race season from the perspective of one of the racers or parents featured in the film.
  • Discuss diversity in the context of racing. Have students watch the clip "The Economics of Racing" (length 3:23), which explains how important it is to have a sponsor in order to pay for the high costs of racing. Also, show the clip "End of the Season/Road" (length 2:52), so students can see what happened to the three featured racers at the end of the season. Discuss: Is it fair that Annabeth, who finished fifth nationally, can continue racing with full sponsorship because she is female, but Brandon, the senior national champion, has to stop racing for financial reasons? What do students think are the pros and cons of racing when special financial support is provided for female and minority drivers? Have students learn more about the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program and debate its value in a mock sports radio or television show discussion.
  • Watch additional POV films that feature competition or exceptional kids. Video, background information and educator resources are provided online for each film: Kings of Pastry: Follows pastry chefs who engage in a high stakes competition to earn the prestigious title of "Best Craftsmen in France" or "Meilleurs Ouvriers de France" (MOF). The Hobart Shakespeareans: Shows fifth graders at an inner-city school in Los Angeles working hard to reach their potential by putting on Hamlet and participating in a unique learning environment.
  • Find and use other types of simulation games and interactive apps in your classroom. A list of apps categorized by how they relate to Bloom's taxonomy is provided at

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POV Background Information: Karting
This article highlights the basics of kart racing and notes its role as a stepping stone to the higher ranks of NASCAR and Formula One.

Stock Car Racing: Kart Racing -- Get on Track!
This February 2009 article describes the sport of kart racing and includes images of karts in action and vehicle close-ups.

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Common Core State Standards for Mathematics

6.SP.1. Recognize a statistical question as one that anticipates variability in the data related to the question and accounts for it in the answers.

7.SP.8. Find probabilities of compound events using organized lists, tables, tree diagrams and simulation.

S-IC.1. Understand statistics as a process for making inferences about population parameters based on a random sample from that population.

S-MD.7. Analyze decisions and strategies using probability concepts (e.g., product testing, medical testing, pulling a hockey goalie at the end of a game).

Content Knowledge: ( a compilation of content standards and benchmarks for K-12 curriculum by McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning).

Economics, Standard 1: Understands that scarcity of productive resources requires choices that generate opportunity costs.

Economics, Standard 2: Understands characteristics of different economic systems, economic institutions and economic incentives.

Language Arts, Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media.

Mathematics, Standard 6: Understands and applies basic and advanced concepts of statistics and data analysis.

Mathematics, Standard 7: Understands and applies basic and advanced concepts of probability.

Mathematics, Standard 9: Understands the general nature and uses of mathematics.

Self-regulation, Standard 1: Sets and manages goals.

Self-regulation, Standard 3: Considers risks.

Self-regulation, Standard 4: Demonstrates perseverance.


Cari Ladd, M.Ed., is an educational writer with a background in secondary education and media development. Previously, she served as PBS Interactive's director of education, overseeing the development of curricular resources tied to PBS programs, the PBS TeacherSource website (now PBS Teachers) and online teacher professional development services. She has also taught in Maryland and Northern Virginia.

Mathematics Consultant

Tracy Dobie is a doctoral student in the learning sciences department at Northwestern University, where she studies issues of motivation and equity in mathematics education. Previously, she worked as the office director and math coordinator at an educational therapy office in New Jersey, where she developed mathematics curricular materials, designed mathematics lesson plans and taught math, reading and writing to 5- to 17-year-old students. She also served as an associate kindergarten teacher at Harlem Success Academy Charter School.