Monday, August 31, 2009

M&M Catapult project pt. 1- The catapult plans

This is a fun lesson I've been doing for a couple years now with my Algebra 2 class. This post will briefly explain what the project is about and show how the catapults were made. Part 2 will include the actual project packet, and go into more detail about how it all works.

Each group of students (2-3) gets a small catapult, and shoots M&Ms from it while it is on the ground. They measure how far each shot goes and how long it is in the air and use that to figure out how far the catapult will fire when they place it up on a desk. They place a target where they think their projectile will land, and get points based on how accurate they are. I check in with each group regularly so they aren't getting too far off course. It's probably my favorite project because it takes a large number of the things we've done in the chapter on parabolas and puts it all together, in a "real life" situation. (While firing M&Ms doesn't have much of a purpose, it's pretty easy to get them to understand the correlation to ballistics)

Unfortunately this project does require some setup (making the catapults), but it shouldn't take too long. I bought popsicle sticks, a few small pieces of wood, wood glue and some small clothespins at the local crafts store and used some scissors and masking tape to make this:

If you have Google Sketchup you can see my model of it here.
The plans are (I hope) pretty self explanatory from the pictures above. The base was a small piece of hard wood I also found at the craft store. The clothespin sits on a platform made of four popsicle sticks cut up with scissors. The basket to hold the candy is made out of masking tape. I added the guide rails on the sides to help with accuracy, in the picture directly above I removed one so that you could see the interior better. This year I was considering changing the plans to allow some sort of button to fire it to improve accuracy, but overall if the students were careful they came out with excellent results.
Stay tuned for part 2 which will include the actual project the kids do!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Quadratic Formula Rap

If there's one thing my students learn by the end of the year and actually still remember in later years, it's the quadratic formula.  The class where I introduce the formula goes down like this:  First I tell them about the quadratic formula in a traditional way. I explain that now with the QF we can solve any quadratic equation, and do it much easier than we could with completing the square.  I show them how to use it and they solve a couple quadratics themselves.  I then tell them that for homework they have to memorize the quadratic formula overnight and there will be a quiz on it at the beginning of next class.(This is not my usual style)  I always receive a chorus of groans.  "But!" I interject "It will be much easier than you think.  I've gotten someone to come in and help you all with this, let me go get him."  I go into the hallway, put my tie around my head, half untuck my shirt and start a live performance of this. (my rapping name is SweenDawg, of course)

The live performance helps make it really fun for them, and I would highly suggest doing it if you decide to use a rap in your classroom.  Any time I do a song in class (there are others) I typically do one "live" and then have a recording so I can play it for the kids multiple times and in later classes to help it stick in their memories.  Now I realize this is not the most groundbreaking or new idea, but I want to stress its effectiveness and fun.  The kids who have been generally uninterested throughout the year usually love this lesson the most and really get into it.  Not only that, but I work in a small school and when I have students in later years they almost always remember how to solve quadratics without any prompting... or maybe just an "op-op-op" to get them started.

I also tend to plug the idea of making their own strategies when they have to memorize something, and how making a song is just one example of a memorization technique.

Shoutout to Mr. Mellor for helping lay down the track.

Have your own fun song that you like to do with your students?  Tell me about it!

Monday, August 24, 2009


Hello and welcome to my brand new blog!  I hope to update my blog at least weekly with lessons that I teach and love, or that I just like and want to make better.  I hope that you enjoy what you find.