Spotting Trains & Planes

Spotting Trains & Planes lesson plan

Invent a math game that uses real-life transportation timetables! Where (and when) will you arrive?

  • 1.

    Train spotting is a popular pastime in England and Canada. People wait at stations, depots, and other train vantage points. They record passing trains’ serial numbers, locomotive types, and times. Plane spotting is a newer but equally enthusiastic hobby. Why do you suppose people enjoy these activities?

  • 2.

    Using the Internet, students working in collaborative groups will access transportation schedules around the world. Instruct children to pick a transportation hub such as a busy airport, subway station, or train terminal. Choose and research departure and arrival times for lines or branches with different destinations. Groups create a travel game reflecting activity at or through the terminal they have chosen.

  • 3.

    Team games can be created in many ways. Here is one example. Cut strips of cardboard or recycled file folders with Crayola® Scissors. (The more strips you cut, the more complex and fun your game will be.) Divide each strip lengthwise into three sections using Crayola Fine Line Markers. Section off columns to form a grid. The top row is for station or airport names. The middle row is the scheduled arrival or departure time. The bottom row is the actual or estimated time. Fill in names and scheduled times. Leave the bottom boxes empty.

  • 4.

    Groups members cut out several game cards. Write travel scenarios such as fog, slick tracks, tail wind, lost tickets, or traffic congestion. Write an estimate of the time loss or gain caused by these situations.

  • 5.

    Spot trains or planes! One way to play is to turn over the branch strips and have each person pick one. The first player chooses a scenario card and reads it out loud. Each player figures out the adjusted time of arrival at each station until reaching the final destination. Write times with Crayola Erasable Colored Pencils so you can erase and play again. Players take turns picking another branch to calculate.

  • 6.

    To race, the first to call out the final locale with the correct time gets another branch. Check the math! For each branch completed, another branch is earned. If branches are connected, then players may quickly jump to the end if the connecting time is correct.


  • LA: Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.
  • LA: Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources, demonstrating the ability to locate an answer to a question quickly or to solve a problem efficiently.
  • LA: Report on a topic or text or present an opinion, sequencing ideas logically and using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.
  • MATH: Convert among different-sized standard measurement units within a given measurement system (e.g., convert 5 cm to 0.05 m), and use these conversions in solving multi-step, real world problems.
  • SS: Identify and describe examples in which science and technology have changed the lives of people, such as in homemaking, childcare, work, transportation, and communication.
  • VA: Select media, techniques, an processes; analyze what makes them effective or not effective in communicating ideas; and reflect upon the effectiveness of choices.


  • Consider offering students laminated sentence strips to create their game boards. Crayola Dry Erase Markers can be used to document time lost while "on the track."
  • Consider offering students laminated sentence strips to create their game boards. Crayola Dry Erase Markers can be used to document time lost while "on the track."