Angry Birds Project – Results and Post-Mortem

In my post last week, I detailed what I was having students do to get some experience modeling quadratic functions using Angry Birds. I was at the 21CL conference in Hong Kong, so the students did this with a substitute teacher. The student teams each submitted their five predictions for the ratio of hit distance to the distance from the slingshot to the edge of the picture. I brought them into Geogebra and created a set of pictures like this one:

Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 7.57.47 AM

After learning some features of Camtasia I hadn’t yet used, I put together this summary video of the activity:

[wpvideo ysubHH3L]

I played the video, and the students were engaged watching the videos, but there was a general sense of dread (not suspense) on their faces as the team with the best predictions was revealed. This, of course, made me really nervous. They did clap for the winners when they were revealed, and we had some good discussion about modeling, which videos were more difficult and why, but there was a general sense of discomfort all through this activity. Given that I wasn’t quite able to figure out exactly why they were being so awkward, I asked them what they thought of the activity on a scale of 1 – 10.

They hated it.

I should have guessed there might be something wrong when I received three separate emails from the three members one team with results that were completely different. Seeing three members of one team work independently (and inefficiently) is something I’m pretty tuned in to when I am in the room, but this was bigger. It didn’t sound like there was much utilization of the fact that they were in teams. I need to ask about this, but I think they were all working in parallel rather than dividing up the labor, talking about their results, and comparing to each other.

Some things I want to remember about this:

  • I need to be a lot more aware of the level of my own excitement around activity in comparison to that of the students. I showed one of the shortened videos at the end of the previous class and asked what questions they really wanted to know. They all said they wanted to know where the bird would land, but in all honesty, I think they were being charitable. They didn’t really care that much. In the game, you learn shortly after whether the bird you fling will hit where you want it to or not. Here, they had to go through a process of importing a picture, fitting a parabola, and finding a zero of a function using Geogebra, and then went a weekend without knowing.

    While it is true that using a computer made this task possible, and was more enjoyable than being forced to do this by hand, the relativity of this scale should be suspect. “Oh good, you’re giving me pain meds after pulling my tooth. Let’s do this again!”

  • A note about pseudocontext – throwing Angry Birds in to a project does not by itself does not necessarily engage students. It is a way in. I think the way I did this was less contrived than other similar projects I’ve seen, but that didn’t make it a good one. Trying to make things ‘relevant’ by connecting math to something the students like can look desperate if done in the wrong way. I think this was the wrong way.
  • I would have gotten a lot more mileage out of the video if I had stopped it here:

    Screen Shot 2013-01-30 at 9.23.26 AM
    That would have been relevant to them, and probably would have resulted in turning this activity back around. I am kicking myself for not doing that. Seriously. That moment WAS when the students were all watching and interested, and I missed it.

Next time. You try and fail and reflect – I’m still glad I did it.

We went on to have a lovely conversation about complex numbers and the equation $latex x^{2}+4 = 0 $. One student immediately said that $ sqrt{-2} $ was just fine to substitute. Another stayed after class to explain why she thought it was a disturbing idea.

No harm done.

P.S. – Anyone who uses this post as a reason not to try these ideas out with their class and to instead slog on with standard lectures has missed the point. I didn’t do this completely right. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t be a home run in the right hands.

6 thoughts on “Angry Birds Project – Results and Post-Mortem

  1. As someone who has spent loving hours developing projects that were summarily rejected by students, i feel your pain. But you still have to give it up. And then recognize that kids prefer to play with the box than the toy within.
    A useful strategy now might be to ask the students to produce their own project. You usually get at least one you can build on for next year…
    Good work!

  2. Thanks for this post–that’s something I rarely think about: the delivery of the “awesome” lesson I just created. I like how you made it about “which team won?” rather than “how close did you get?”–that’s sure to catch students’ attention better. So often I get excited about lessons I’ve made because I think they’re fun and I forget that just because I’m excited, doesn’t mean the students are. And so often, my excitement doesn’t rub off on them the way I want it to. It’s a helpful reminder that sometimes it’s just the “hook” that I need to work on and not the lesson as a whole. Thanks!!

  3. >> I need to be a lot more aware of the level of my own excitement around activity in comparison to that of the students.
    Boy! You hit the nail on the head with that one! As much as we try to find interesting problems to illustrate topics, I think it will always come down to – interesting to whom, the students or the teacher? And we are a few years apart.
    Right now I am intrigued that you can place a Super Bowl bet on the over/under of how long it will take Alicia Keys to sing the National Anthem. Someone collected prior data on this, and it sounded like a good problem for my statistics class. But I decided while this is interesting to me, I don’t think it would be interesting to my students.
    Thanks for your insights.

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