Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Angry Parabolas

As a way of connecting quadratic functions to something my students would  be familiar with I decided that we should play a game. Not just any game. I wanted to focus on one of the most popular games available for mobile devices. So I hooked my phone up to a projector and fired up Angry Birds. Most, if not all, of my students were familiar with the game and couldn't believe that we were playing it in math. I heard comments such as "Are we really going to play this?", "Is this a joke?", "What's the catch?", "You're going to link this to math aren't you?".  If nothing else they were interested in what the link to math was.

I had a couple of students come up and try the game. Once they had a chance to play I gave it a try and fired the bird high into the air so that it made a beautiful arch. I didn't hit a single obstacle and my students thought I was completely incompetent at the game. They sincerely offered suggestions about how I could improve. Eventually they realized that I had no intentions of hitting anything. I explained that the interesting part about the game is that it leaves behind a nice trail showing where the bird had been.

I took a screen shot and fired it up on the computer. We labelled the parabola and discussed some terminology. I didn't feel the need to write out any definitions. They seemed to get the ideas. It was funny to hear students helping each other by referring to the game in their explanations.

The game provided a good introduction to the unit and I wondered how I could take it further. My first thought was how cool would it be to have students write a simplified version of the game? They would learn the math, a whole ton of problem solving and some programming.  I wasn't prepared to do this since I thought it would take up too much time. I may however consider using Sam Shah's technique of modifying a program in the future. Perhaps I could write the program and they could modify it so that it worked properly.

My second thought was to have students determine the equation that modelled the path of the bird. I created a Geogebra file with the image as the background and a grid laid on top of the image. I had students determine the equation at their seats first, then I had a student come up to board and move the sliders around to reveal the equation.You can find a link to the Geogebra file here.

I'd like to find a good way of determining the equation of the function that will allow the bird to hit a certain location and use this information to improve game play. I can see some technical challenges here. I'll have to think about this for next time.

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  1. Hi Dave,
    I've thought about this post for a while - mainly because I am addicted to angry birds, but also for the math :). I put it in the back of my mind to use angry birds at some point with parabolas and even asked for the free app to be installed on my kids' ipads next year. I created a couple of images that had the grid and some even with exact points. I was actually thinking of showing some of the images to kids (and having them create some of their own!) and then having THEM ask some questions... and of course then work collaboratively to find some answers/ideas. The questions they could come up with are so many!
    I also like your idea of using geogebra for investigation (although no iPad app yet for that - maybe it's a computer lab day!). I could see using this in so many ways.
    Thank you for the post!

  2. Thanks for the comment iTeach. Having students create their own is a great idea. Hopefully it won't be too much longer before there's an mobile Geogebra app.