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.

    <STRONG>Choose a terminal</STRONG>. With the Internet, access transportation schedules around the world. 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. Imagine where you could go from Paris, London, or New York! With a small group of classmates, create a travel game any way you like. This is how we made ours.

  • 3.

    <STRONG> Design your game</STRONG>. 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.

    <STRONG>Cut out several game cards.</STRONG> 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.

    <STRONG>Spot trains or planes</STRONG>! 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 u

  • 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 c


  • Students engage in an international pastime that entails reading and interpreting train, subway, or airline schedules from a selected city.
  • Students develop and problem solve design of a math game using timetables.
  • Students use their math skills to play individually designed games and check their calculations.


  • Calling someone a train spotter can be considered a derogatory term. The person is viewed as someone with a passion for acquiring detailed or boring information. After playing this game, why do you agree or disagree?
  • Share your hobbies with classmates. Set up a display and invite other classrooms to see and learn about these pastimes.
  • Ask train or plane spotters to explain what intrigues them and what they look for as they spot.
  • Assessment: Observe children’s cooperation while creating and playing the game. Evaluate the complexity of the game and the intensity of involvement while playing. Spot-check calculations for accuracy.