I am starting off blogging by sharing one of my favorite projects that I created with my dean a few years ago. After attending a conference at Southwest Research Institute, I got inspired to do a project that would help students connect their learning of quadratics to the real world. I decided to make it about projectiles. I dreamed of getting to launch projectiles across the math classroom, but had no idea how to make this possible. After talking with my dean who is essentially a physics guru, he helped my dream become a reality. Below you will find the process and some reflections on the project.
First, we modeled a projectile using LoggerPro software and found the quadratic equation. This equation became the central focus for our students to manipulate. We asked them to find the vertex form, x-intercepts, y-intercept, and the domain and range. The fun part came on the second day of the project. We hung tennis balls in the back of the room and gave each group (groups of 3-4 students) a different height at which they would set their equation to. Using the quadratic formula, they solved their equation for the x-distance at which to launch the projectile. If their calculations were correct, they would successfully hit the tennis ball. With safety goggles on, measuring sticks in hand, and genuinely excited emotions, each group stepped up to the projectile launcher to try out their solutions. Some chose to set the launcher at the farthest distance for more fun, and some chose to go the safe route and try the closer distance. Several groups hit the target on the first try which was so fun to to watch the teamwork of their groups as they high-fived and congratulated each other. The groups that didn’t hit the target on the first try realized they needed to watch for the human error of lining the projectile launcher up straight. By the end of each class period, each group had successfully hit the target and proved their math calculations correct.
I love this project because it’s an authentic way to check their work. Also, my first couple years of doing this, I connected it to space science by having a hook that the students were trying to blast a near earth object out of our orbit (Armageddon style). Two years ago, my sophomore team and I designed a full interdisciplinary unit on Nuclear Culture. So to connect it to this, I changed the theme up a bit and had students watch a video about NATO’s ballistic missile defense program and then act as if they were helping NATO use projectiles to intercept incoming harmful missiles. Students were able to communicate their reasoning behind advantages and disadvantages of using technology like this and what might happen if we were successful or unsuccessful in hitting their target. I loved that students made connections, communicated coherently, problem solved, and found reasoning and proof (all performance outcomes that the math department at my school tries to achieve) in one single project!
Here’s the link to the student materials: Saving the World with Math