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Plinkoball Helps Students Exercise Math Skills

In search of a way to liven up the playground, elementary principal Sam Slarskey came up with Plinkoball, a game in which kids launch balls at funnels and calculate their scores based on where they were standing and the balls path to the ground. Included: A description of how to play Plinkoball

Combining balls, funnels, and endless scoring opportunities, principal Sam Slarskey created a playground sensation that has students eager to do math calculations during recess and PE class.

Plinkoball combines aspects of basketball and the
uncertainty of a carnival game to make a game
that has kids eager to play and do math.

Slarskeys creation, Plinkoball, is billed as basketball with a mathematical attitude. Students at East Falmouth Elementary School cant get enough of the game. Players shoot balls at a series of funnels without knowing where the balls will exit.

The kids love it, Slarskey told Education World. They make up their own scoring systems.


Slarskey designed an apparatus with a series of funnels mounted on a pole. The pole is placed in the center of a numbered bulls eye drawn on the ground with higher numbers furthest away from the center.

To play Plinkoball, students toss volleyballs or gator skin balls into the funnels from various distances. Each funnel has three chutes from which the ball can exit. Students score points based on how many funnels and chutes the ball passes through. They also can rack up points based on where they are standing on the bulls eye, which has nine numbered concentric circles.

Scoring Sheets

Sam Slarskey offers these links to three different Plinkoball scoring sheets. But, of course, he always encourages students to invent new Plinkoball scoring methods.

Arithmetic Plinkoball Scoring Sheet
Basketball Plinkoball Scoring Sheet
Power of 2 Plinkoball Scoring Sheet

The game has inspired many mathematical algorithms, some of which are offered in worksheets to promote practice with calculations along with physical exercise, according to a description of the game. Students also create their own scoring systems.

It was a nice thing to make that link between math and phys ed -- stretching and throwing hard to hit a12-foot high target, Slarskey noted. The game is popular with both boys and girls.

PE teacher David Watson also has developed some Plinkoball games students play during class. One of the things I like about it is you dont have to be the best math student or athlete to use it -- everyone on a team has to participate.


Slarskey came up with the idea for the game after talking to students about potential additions to the playground. I was looking for things to install that werent too expensive, Slarskey said. I was talking to some of my fourth-grade basketball fans and asked them if they ever shot a ball at a ball funnel. One boy said he really liked those because you never know where the ball is going to come out.


One of the things I like about it is you dont have to be the best math student or athlete to use it.

Increasing the unpredictability of a game using funnels would make it more fun, realized Slarskey, a former science and language arts teacher. Slarskey named his creation Plinkoball after a carnival game called plinko, which involves players dropping a ball down a board with a series of pegs to see in which slot at the bottom of the board the ball lands. A large version of plinko is played on the game show The Price is Right.


Since Slarskey could not go into a store to buy a Plinkoball game, he contacted Landscape Structures, a playground equipment company, to build it. The company modified an existing product called a drop shot. They said they could ship me custom-made poles, but could give me no guarantee what I was trying to design would work, Slarskey told Education World. Now Plinkoball is featured on the homepage of Landscape Structures Web site.

I still cant believe everything he did to make it work, said Lynn Pinoniemi, Landscapes director of marketing. Its so neat to see that passion from a principal coming together into our product. And its not just a play experience for children, but an educational tool as well.

Landscape Structures personnel even invited Slarskey to attend the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) convention to talk about his creation.

I still cant believe everything he [Slarskey] did to make it work. Its so neat to see that passion from a principal

Slarskey said his big hope for his invention is that other schools start ordering them. He regularly gets calls from other administrators asking about Plinkoball. Its just hitting the airwaves, Pinoniemi noted. It could become one of our regular products.

Note: Sam Slarskey retired in June 2010, but people with questions about Plinkoball can contact him at [email protected].


PE and Health

Originally published 09/13/2010

Updated 06/09/2015