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NSW Syllabuses

STEM Early Stage 1 - Activity 4


Description of activity

Students investigate characteristics of footprints.

This activity will take approximately 1 hour.


Students observe and determine different ways to describe and measure footprints. They will explore the questions:

  • How and why do the characteristics of our footprints change?
  • What information can we get from footprints?



STe-4WS explores their immediate surroundings by questioning, observing using their senses and communicating to share their observations and ideas
STe-5WT uses a simple design process to produce solutions with identified purposes
MAe-1WM describes mathematical situations using everyday language, actions, materials and informal recordings
MAe-2WM uses objects, actions, technology and/or trial and error to explore mathematical problems
MAe-3WM uses concrete materials and/or pictorial representations to support conclusions
ENe-2A composes simple texts to convey an idea or message

Knowledge and understanding

STe-6NE identifies that the way objects move depends on a variety of factors
MAe-9MG describes and compares lengths and distances using everyday language
MAe-10MG describes and compares areas using everyday language
MAe-12MG describes and compares the masses of objects using everyday language



  • Blank A4 paper, pencils and erasers
  • Sand/mud box or tray
  • Rake or other tool for smoothing sand
  • Tools for informal measurement, eg paddle-pop sticks, toothpicks, square blocks
  • Images of footprints


  • Paint, paint trays, paint smocks, large paint brushes, old shoes, tape measure

Work, health and safety

Check relevant Work, health and safety guidelines.

Evidence of work for assessment purposes

  • Labelled foot imprints, diagrams or photos of footprints showing different movement, eg standing, walking and running
  • Student identification of activity based on the structure of an image of a footprint

STEM teaching and learning activities

  • Investigate different ways of making a footprint, eg outline on paper, make a mark in sand/mud, use paint, in a paint tray, to step in and make an impression on paper. Note: a footprint in sand/mud can also show depth which can be related to weight.
  • Students make a range of footprint imprints for observation:
    • Standing still – note the structure of the print
    • Walking – note distance between footprints as well as structure of the print
    • Running – note distance between footprints as well as structure of the print
    • People of different sizes – relate the size of a footprint to the height/weight of a person.
  • Discuss the ways in which the footprints differ. Description of footprints should incorporate measurements of length and width of footprint, distance between footprints when walking or running, depth of footprint with people of different sizes, and parts of the foot that are clearly defined.
  • Students devise ways to measure and compare footprints, with assistance:
    • Measurement of length using comparisons and/or informal units
    • Measurement of area using comparisons
    • Measurement of depth of footprint using informal units
    • Discuss the best way for students to record their findings.
  • Show students pictures of human footprints. Ask students to write a short description or draw a sketch of what that person was doing, in order to make those prints. Ask the students to give the reasons for their choice.

Vocabulary list

Area – the amount of space inside a boundary
Depth – the distance from the top of a surface to the bottom of something
Force – a push, a pull or a twist [Students do not need to know this definition at this stage]
Heavy – a great weight; difficult to lift or move
Length – the measurement of something from end to end
Light – not heavy
Pull – causing the movement of something towards oneself
Push – causing the movement of something away from oneself
Shallow – not deep
Shorter – a smaller measurement by comparison
Width – the measurement of something from side to side

Key inquiry questions

How can the differences between different footprints be described?
Stride size, the length between prints when doing different activities, eg footprints are closer when walking than when running; footprints tend to be full prints when walking, but partial prints when running.
Footprints tend to be deeper when standing than when walking. Footprints of bigger people tend to be longer and deeper.

What is the relationship between a person's footprint and their height or weight?
A larger person will usually have a larger footprint, compared with a smaller person, because people are proportional in size and shape – so a taller person will (on average) have larger hands and feet, longer arms and legs, and so on, compared with a shorter person.

A heavier person will have a deeper footprint than a lighter person of the same height, because the effect of the force of gravity is greater on them.

How can you tell how a person is moving by looking at their footprints?
Footprints can show the way a person is moving. The faster a person is moving, the further apart the footprints will be. So, a person who is walking slowly, walking quickly or running will show an increasing distance between the footprints.

The shape of a footprint also shows how a person has been moving or standing. For example, when we run, we push off from the ball of our foot very strongly to launch ourselves from the ground, whereas when we stand, we often lean back on our heels. This means that if you compare the footprint of a running person with a walking person to a standing person, the running person's print will be deeper at the ball of the foot, the walking person's print will be about equal depth for the ball and the heel, and the standing person's print will be deeper at the heel.

Some children may ask why a smaller area of the foot touches the ground when running.

Friction is a concept that is explored in Stage 2. It is a force (explored in Stage 1) that exists when two surfaces are in contact. When the total area of our foot touches the ground there is friction between the surfaces. The smaller the area of the foot touching the ground the less friction is experienced. Friction causes things to slow down. By using the ball of the foot, there is less friction and thus a runner can run more quickly.

Support materials

Student interactives

Adjustments for the diversity of learners

Examine the footprints or trails made by other animals. Do these tell us anything about the structure of these animals? Do the footprints tell us anything about the environment in which these animals live?

My Survival as an Aboriginal (1978) Video showing traditional methods used to track animals. Use this resource to help incorporate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander learning.

Are people with bigger feet really taller?

Do heavier people really make deeper footprints?


By completing this STEM activity, students clarify the concepts of forces and possibly friction. These concepts will be built upon through all Stages and are essential for students' future studies in Physics.
You have also given students practical experiences in:
•    Carrying out an investigation
•    Creating tools for measurement
•    Taking measurements
•    Recording measurements
•    Making judgements
•    Reaching conclusions
•    Making inferences, and
•    Justifying decisions
These skills are vital in the development of the ability to think critically and analyse quantitative information.