Barbie Bungee Jumping & Active Learning in Math

[A]ll the kids remember Barbie Bungee. They like it. They remember it. They think it makes sense. I think it demonstrates a good process of math in general — make a guess, collect some data, write a model, use your model to make a prediction.

All of Ms. Fairbank’s students know that it takes a real Barbie to “make” a Barbie Bungee Jump work. “The fake ones,” she explains, “are too light.” And when making predictions to insure Barbie will have a successful bungee jump, weight matters.

Ms. Fairbanks brought Barbie into HHS for a recent math lesson on linear regression. The learning goal was to use linear regression to write a model to represent the path Barbie would jump and then use that model to make a prediction of the number of rubber bands it would take for her to safely jump from the Senior Lounge on the third floor.

While students need to plot points, draw the line of best fit, find the slope and the y-intercept, and write the equation of this line by hand, they also used an online calculator (desmos.com) to helps make this process visible. As Ms. Fairbanks explains, “I show them how to do it using the [online] program by entering the values into a table, then adding the variables for the equation and voila, Desmos graphs it and tells us the equation.”

The lesson starts with students making a prediction: “How many rubber bands do you think it will take for Barbie to safely jump from the ceiling to the floor?”  They don’t calculate anything, they simply guess. Often students are uncomfortable with “guesstimating” because, as Ms. Fairbanks explains, “what if they get it wrong?” “But,” she is quick to add, “they are getting better at taking the risk.” Students then must ask questions that will help them predict and plan their models to insure Barbie’s safety: How tall is the ceiling? How can we measure it? How many rubber bands will we need?

Next, students test out “drops” using iterations of their model to measure their success (or lack thereof). Through this process they start to see a linear pattern. Students have to graph their models and draw the line of best fit.

For one of her recent Barbie Bungee lessons, Ms. Fairbanks shared the process with her students via her blog, 8 is My Lucky Number. She also used a Google Form to help students gather and analyze data from their drops.

Ms. Fairbanks uses this blog to collaborate with other math colleagues, near and far. With  over two hundred followers on her social media accounts, she is able to share her creative, active approach to teaching math here at HHS. To follow her great ideas follow her blog or find her on Twitter, @HHSmath.

Here are some of the many inventive things Ms. Fairbanks is doing in class (hint: one uses Post-Its and another involves Rice Crispy cones) to help our students build deep understand of mathematics — all while having fun in the process!

Image credit: “Teen Talk Barbie 1991” by Freddycat1 shared & modified via a CC BY-SA 2.0 license from flickr. com

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