The problem is that this was after two days of doing the Barbie Bungee Jump activity. The fabulous Barbie Bungee Jump. (Cf. Julie and Fawn) I was assisting a very nice and competent substitute teacher.
Coming on the heels of Christopher Danielson's and Chris Lusto's #globalmath session on building intellectual need, it was clear that most of these students did not have it. Nor were they looking for it.
This is a good school with good students and good teachers. What's going on, or not going on? My first brief observations:
- Students were given all the steps to follow. Being told to do a, b and c and then doing a, b and c is not engaging.
- There was no hook. How much of a hook depends on the lesson. This one could have used the video, a discussion about bungee jumping, etc. Going straight into 'here's what you do' gives no chance for wondering. Even if it's what the students want or are asking for.
- There was no expectation that this was worth their time or could be interesting. There is always time to start, but this might also be about developing a culture of inquiry. Students need to learn that this is what math is, and this is what math class is like or could be like.
Day 1: Students were given a worksheet with a table, told how to assemble the rubber bands and washers and to collect data for 1 to 6 rubber bands. Then graph all of their data and freehand a line of best fit. This is the beginning of a functions unit that will end with linear functions. Then they were asked to make a prediction for how many rubber bands they would need for the drop. We didn't have the actual heights, so they predicted for 3 m. Mostly, their prediction method was pick a number that was bigger than 6. 20 seemed nice to them, though some went with 18, since 6 rubber bands was close to a meter. Two groups found the average increase per rubber band.
We weren't clear about how to do the drop in the stairwell. We didn't have a set (or maybe even one) tape measure for long distances. Two teachers wound up determining 3 drop spots and measuring the distances, between 3 and 3.5 m.
Day 2: (After a snow day and a PD day.)
The students coming back were not much more enthralled than they were Day 1. I shared how this was the start of a functions unit, the math idea of having a rule to go from input to output. I tried to phrase the question as given the input of how many rubber bands, could they predict how far it would drop. (Not much traction, as there were already instructions on the screen.) The substitute gave each group their drop height. The two groups that had figured out the averages used this to make quite specific predictions, and one group made the complete table that this would generate. At the last second they cut 2 rubberbands off of their total, to allow for the length of the disk and acceleration. They were worried that it would be traveling faster at the bottom and that would make it stretch more. Two other groups adjusted their number a bit, but without reasoning that they could share.
We proceeded to the stairwell and groups took turns making their single drop. 2 hit the floor, including one of the more mathemaical groups, 2 got about 70 cm away, 1 was more than 1 m, and the group that had made the table got to within 10 cm. Went back to the classroom, shared the results and had the winning group describe their efforts while few listened. I talked with the mathy group that hit the floor about what went wrong. Basically they felt math failed them. Double checking their work I saw the problem was that they were computing for the wrong drop height! Their calculation would have put them quite close.
The students were pretty happy. Better than a typical math class, playing with rubber bands, leaving the classroom. The sub was okay with it, as students were mostly in control and made it through all of the steps. I felt like we missed an opportunity.
So what would you change about the lesson? What would add/create/inspire intellectual need in what is a (potentially) great activity?
Excellent discussion! I just want a few of the shared links to be more visible here. But many people put great thinking below so don't skimp on the comment reading.
- Timon: http://www.101qs.com/1563-barbie-bungee Barbie Bungee video
- Ruth: http://cohort21.com/ruthmcarthur/2013/02/02/freestyle-barbie-bungee-no-steps-required/ her blogpost sharing an open-ended/low structure approach
- Pieter: http://www.researchgate.net/publication/222209242_Analysis_of_a_fatal_bungee-jumping_accident sad accident analyzed
- Julie: (blogspot ate her comment) follow up post http://ispeakmath.wordpress.com/2013/02/02/barbie-bungee-follow-up-be-careful-when-using-the-recipe/
- Robert: http://robertkaplinsky.com/lessons-learned-in-implementing-problem-based-learning/ expands on his four C's