How good is your model? Angry Birds edition

With Algebra 2 this week, I decided it was time to get on the Angry Birds wagon. I didn't even mention exactly what we were going to do with it - the day before, the students found the above image in the class directory on the school server, and were immediately intrigued. This was short lived when they learned they weren't going to find out what it would be used for until the day after.

To maximize the time spent actually mathematical modeling, I used the video Frank Noschese posted on his blog for all students. They could pick any of the three birds and do the following:

Part A:
Birds are launched at 6, 13, and 22 seconds in the video. Let's call each one Bird A, Bird B, and Bird C.
• Take a screenshot of any of the complete paths of birds A, B, or C.
• Import the picture into Geogebra. Create the most accurate model you can for the bird you selected. What is the equation that models the path? Does it match that of your neighbors?

Part B:
• Go back to the video and the part in the video for the bird that you picked. Move forward to a frame shortly after the bird is launched, take a screenshot, and put it again into Geogebra. Can you create a model that hits the landing point you found before using only the white dots that show only the beginning of the path?

If not, find the earliest possible time at which you can do this. Post a screenshot of your model and the equations for the models you came up with for both Part A and Part B.

My hope is not to just use the excitement of using Angry Birds in class to motivate knowing how to model using quadratic functions. That seems a bit too much like a gimmick. The most interesting and realistic use (and ultimately the most powerful capability of any model) of this source of data is to come up with as accurate of a prediction of the behavior of the trajectory as is possible using minimal information. It's easy to come up with a quadratic model that matches the entire path after the fact. Could they do this only twenty frames after launch? Ten?

The students quickly started seeing how wildly the parabola changes shape when the points being used to model the parabola are all close together. This made obvious the importance of collecting data over a range of values in creating a model - the students caught on pretty quickly to this fact.

I think Angry Birds served as a cool "something different" for the class and has a lot of potential in a math class, as it does in physics. I am hoping to use this as a springboard to have students understand the power of models and ultimately choose something to model that allows them to predict a phenomenon that is of some importance to their own adolescent worlds. I don't exactly know what this might be, and I have some suggestions for students to make if they are unable to come up with anything, but this tends to be one of those ideas that eventually results in a few students doing some very original work. Given my interest in ultimately getting students to participate in the Google Science Fair, I think this is just the thing to push them in the right direction of making their own investigation.

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