Projectiles in Motion

I’m sure we all remember that one math class we had in high school: the long lectures, the rows of peers facing a chalkboard, the endless equations written the same way over and over again. Although this method worked for some of us, it’s not exactly the most exciting and definitely not the most efficient way to learn mathematics.

Luckily for our students here at White Mountain, we don’t exactly believe that learning is done best when the class curriculum is forced or dully presented.

Math teacher Annabel Clarance has recently had some terrific ideas about how to change up the pace in her Algebra II class! Recently, she’s given her students a creative outlet to the standard process of learning about quadratic functions.

Annabel’s project, called “Projectiles in Motion,” is a three-week long investigation of the applications of quadratic functions.  Working in groups of two to three, students got to do what many high schoolers do best: expend their energy into physical motion – and by this I mean throw things.  Students chose to use all sorts of objects (tennis and soccer balls, eggs, gourds, and just for kicks, a tiny figurine pig with a cape made of tape!) and filmed these objects as they were thrown twice into the air. Although this may sound more like baseball practice than class, this activity made students demonstrate some major math skills.  After recording their throws, students found the equations for the vertical and horizontal motion of their objects using data gathered from their observations. Students then calculated the vertex of their projectile’s path, its highest point, and how long it took the projectile to get there.

The beauty of our curriculum here at White Mountain, interwoven with student-driven inquiry, is that all our academic subjects oftentimes blend a variety of other skillsets in their projects.  In Annabel’s class, after the throwing, the filming, and the calculations, students then were able to put together a short video using their throws to explain the math behind the arcs of their projectiles.  According to Annabel, “This part is where they had to synthesize all the work they have done in order to efficiently present it in a video.  This project puts our math in context and allows students to interact deeply with the material.”


By Eliot Taft, Assistant Director of Admission and Communication

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