Monday, September 10, 2012

Tactical Rescue Missions for Intergalactic Good

While foraging for markers, a student in one of my math and programming classes stumbled upon some old science equipment I keep in the closet. The air-propelled rocket launcher was promptly brought out of retirement and set up in the long rectangular space at the rear of the math center. It wasn't long before a rousing game of "hit the target" was underway. Based on the number of times the soft foam rocket came perilously close to my head, it would seem I was the target although everyone agreed they were aiming for the algebra poster.

Sensing an opportunity among the chaos, I grabbed a hula hoop out of the closet of science and placed in on the floor on the other side of the room. The hula hoop proved a more interesting target and it wasn't long before the discussion headed in the direction of angles and velocity. An impromptu lesson on projectile motion ensued.

We measured launch angles and landing distances and recorded flight times. We refined our understanding of velocity and used horizontal motion data to find starting velocities. Through our experiments, we hit upon combinations of velocities and launch angles that would land our rocket inside the hula hoop. One student, who grew frustrated with the trial and error process, asked,

"Can we calculate the velocity and angle if we know where we want the rocket to land?"

Since this was a math and programming course, I suggested we write a program that models the experiment and perhaps make a game based on this student's question. After several weeks of brainstorming, coding, revising, and experimenting, we came up with this:

There are both elements of game design (points awarded, incentives for calculations and good guesses, increasingly difficult levels, and interesting sound effects) and elements of instructional design (timed flights, recorded data, and explanation of math equations). We also replaced the theme of destruction typically seen in these games with a more positive rescue mission plot. I am incredibly proud of this group and all that they have accomplished this year. I know some will be moving on but I hope we can continue our work next year.

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